Shelagh Rogers: “We need to support each other in our suffering”

Shelagh Rogers has built a legacy in Canadian radio on the strength of bringing people together. From the CBC’s Morningside, to Sounds Like Canada, to This Morning and The Next Chapter, the Ottawa-born broadcaster’s inimitable warmth, kindness, and curiosity have made loyal listeners across the country. With a voice heard by over a million Canadians, Rogers hasn’t been shy about using it for a greater purpose: especially in advocating for mental health awareness through sharing her own story of depression.

“We’re all human, and we all suffer in some ways,” says Rogers. “And we need to support each other in our suffering. I love the root of the word compassion, because what it literally means is to suffer with.”

For the CBC host and Officer of the Order of Canada, her suffering began as a student at Queen’s University.

“I was feeling like I couldn’t get out of bed, and it was going on for weeks,” says Rogers. “Unfortunately, the person who saw me said that it was all hormonal and that it would go away. And so for the next three decades or so, I skewed my symptoms towards hormones and not what was really wrong with me.”

What followed for Rogers were years of suffering in secrecy, even as her star began to rise at the country’s public broadcaster. Today, she describes listening back to tapes of her radio shows and hearing a different person at times.

“I learned to cover it up,” she says. “I think I was overcompensating for how I was really feeling inside, and felt I couldn’t bring that forward. There wasn’t really a forum to do that […] Plus, I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”

“I want to be with people who accept me as I am. And that is something I really wish I had learned a long, long time ago. A lot of this for me has been trying to be someone else. And once I stopped trying to be someone else, I just began to feel a lot better.” – Shelagh Rogers

It took a breakdown in 2003 — or as she calls it, a breakthrough — for things to finally click for Rogers. This time, she received a diagnosis of unipolar depression.

“I was finally able to attack it; I was finally able to treat it,” says Rogers. “It was so great to get that help.”

“I can tell you what it’s like to be in one of these depressive episodes, and the biggest word I have is emptiness,” she adds. “Nothing matters. It’s a void. It’s like this big, huge desert of nothing. And that’s despairing.”

What followed were years of recovery, and after a conversation with — and private urging from — Canadian singer Amy Sky, Rogers finally began speaking publicly about her experiences.

“I want people to understand it’s an illness,” she says. “It’s not something spooky — it can be scary; I’m not denying that — but mental illness is an illness, first and foremost.”

“Getting rid of guilt [is important],” Rogers adds. “Getting rid of the shame of this. And forgiving yourself. And then also forgiving the people who don’t get it, the people who haven’t necessarily supported you. That feels really good.”