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'It was finally enough for me to say, 'I need help'

Miss Oktoberfest 2013 Tara Hebblethwaite shares her story of struggles on World Mental Health Day
Tara Hebblethwaite
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Tara Hebblethwaite was crowned Miss Oktoberfest in 2013.

But it was a reign that didn't feel as complete as she wanted it to, looking back.

"I didn't want people to know that there was this more dark, dreary, broken crown that I got underneath this beautiful, shiny one," she said.

Hebblethwaite, like many others, struggle with mental health issues.  She shared her story on World Mental Health Day, which falls on October 10 each year.

The focus this year is on the well-being of young people.

The World Health Organization reports half of all mental illness begins at the age of 14, with most cases going undetected and untreated.

Hebblethwaite says she started noticing signs and symptoms of panic attacks 10 years before she started her Miss Oktoberfest reign.

"At that age, it was really hard to decipher if it was just me going through the trials and tribulations of just growing up," she said.

"I really started to have these panic attacks to the point where I'd lose my voice from screaming.  I was uncontrollable.  And I really didn't know what it was."

She says her parents were there to help but things escalated in high school, when her anxiety started to peak.

"But all of this I hid behind," Hebblethwaite added, feeling the societal pressures of high school.

"Words were thrown around so much, that it was a stigmatized focus," she said, "I knew in my life that if I wanted to fit in and wanted to make a name for myself in a group of friends, or to proceed down the road, I couldn't be somebody who had a mental illness."

She continued to keep it to herself into her university years, where she developed signs of an eating disorder and it got to the point where she was taken to hospital.

Hebblethwaite says even with that, she still "hid behind doors from absolutely everyone" so she can be perceived as "held together, as perfect, as accomplished be."

"To me, that is what success was, and that was the image of what I needed to be in society," she told The Mike Farwell Show on 570 NEWS.

"And I was suffering because of that, inside."

When Hebblethwaite was going through the process of Miss Oktoberfest, she says her "anxiety was through the roof" but it was also a way for her to learn to cope and conquer those things in a different way.

It also provided her a platform to be a role model, but she still struggled to speak out about her own issues because she didn't want people to see that side of her.

"I accomplished amazing things, I met so many fantastic people," she said, "But part of me didn't feel whole.  I wanted to stand for more."

She alluded to Miss Oktoberfest 2014 Lindsay Kalbfleisch, and her work with KidsAbility.

"It made me so proud," she said.

"But I guess part of my time of Miss Oktoberfest didn't feel complete as I would've liked to.  You get one shot at it."

It wasn't until she witnessed a little boy die by suicide that she decided to reach out for help.

"I went through so much trauma, so much pain dealing with what I witnessed," she said, "It still triggers me to this day, but it got to the point where I saw somebody to the end of their extreme, I saw somebody lose their life due to stigma to mental was finally enough for me to say 'I need help.'"

Hebblethwaite says to this day, she still takes daily medication and has gotten well enough to say "I felt like I failed during my time as Miss (Oktoberfest), because who knows if I stood for this, maybe that boy would've heard me speak."

"And maybe that would've helped him."

She says despite all that, she has no regrets and is proud of how far she and many others have come, noting she's been approached by people who have thanked her for speaking out and inspiring them.

Hebblethwaite admits she's had negative feedback, but she's focused more on the people she can help.

"At the end of the day, I'm more focused on the people's minds that I can continue to change, not those that won't change," she said, ""And hopefully one day, then maybe they will change when they can see just how much more somebody who they deem crazy can continue to accomplish in this community."

"Because I'm not stopping."

CLICK HERE to hear her full story, including what she's up to now.


Mark Pare

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