Lesley McCuaig

Athlete and Mental Health Counselor: Lesley McCuaig

See Lesley’s feature on Global News Morning Halifax

Lesley McCuaig grew up in a village outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia where she lived with her parents and two older brothers. Her dream was to ski, and during high school, she placed third in a Canadian National Competition in Banff, Alberta. Lesley later became a skiing instructor in British Columbia.

Lesley attended the first independent high school in Canada, Kings-Edgehill School, where she won the 2000 Bronze Millennium Governor Generals Medal. She also learned Irish step dancing and studied at the Gaelic College. In 2006 she completed her bachelor’s degree at Acadia University in kinesiology.

Her journey with mental health started in 2009, when she first sought help for depression and anxiety.  What she didn’t realize at the time was that her depression and anxiety were the result of a substance use disorder, causing her to consume alcohol daily. From 2007 to 2013, Lesley worked successfully for a real estate and insurance company as an accounting technician. However, in 2013, when she was in her late 20s, she began to suffer from a growing addiction to alcohol. She attended a residential treatment facility for alcoholism in Maple Ridge, British Columbia in the spring of 2014 and has remained sober and in recovery to date.

In 2015, Lesley’s mother suffered from heart failure and slipped into a coma while fighting for her life. The stress was difficult for Lesley. During her mother’s recovery, she experienced her first symptoms of schizophrenia, hearing voices in her mind. After two weeks, the voices worsened. She was unable to sleep for days at a time and finally checked into a hospital. Lesley was released quickly with no diagnosis and no medication.

When Lesley returned home, she experienced paranoia, changing all the light bulbs in her house and believing someone was spying on her through the glass. She experienced delusions that her neighbors were conspiring against her, and she called the police on them multiple times. Every time she called the police, she was apprehended under the mental health act and put under psychiatric evaluation.

After her first hospitalization, in June 2015, Lesley left home, wandering the nearby neighborhood.  Perhaps the most significant hallucinations she has experienced to date occurred on that evening.  She remembers standing on vehicle tires because she thought she would be electrocuted if she remained on the ground. She was experiencing both auditory and olfactory hallucinations, which led her to believe this. When a citizen noticed her standing on their vehicle’s tires, she quickly moved to the ground and collapsed with fatigue. Police soon found her confused and sleeping in a public place, and she was retaken to a hospital.

She would be hospitalized several more times in the summer of 2015 for behavior relating to auditory hallucinations. The police came to her house several times for mental wellness checkups, called in by both family members and mental health professionals. This was a tumultuous time for both Lesley and her family.

Finally, in January 2016, Lesley was given the opportunity to meet with a new mental health nurse. He was very upfront, earned her trust, and listened intently. It was here that Lesley became honest about her auditory hallucinations and began regularly seeing a psychiatrist.

Later in 2016, Lesley celebrated a year and a half of sobriety and several months of remission from schizophrenia. That same year, Lesley decided to start a non-profit organization in British Columbia called Connected Through Sports Society. The Connected Through Sports Society was a non-profit entity designed to provide a safe environment for people in recovery from addictions to participate anonymously in community sports.

She also founded her own for-profit business, Lesley McCuaig Consulting and Research, and was successfully self-employed. However, in 2017, Lesley was still struggling to live independently and decided to move back to Nova Scotia to be closer to her immediate family.

It was at that time that Lesley began to thrive personally and professionally. She decided to make a career change and pursued a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She began her master’s degree program in January 2019, studying full-time and working full-time in an accounting firm in Halifax. Lesley graduated in 2022.

Lesley’s life today is unrecognizable from the life she was living in 2013–isolated, alone, and suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia. Today, Lesley still skis, golfs, hikes, kayaks, plays the piano, fiddle, and guitar; and enjoys photography. She has many close friends and loves to spend time with her family. With the completion of her master’s degree in counselling psychology, she recently began her own private practice, Coastal Hope Counselling. Coastal Hope Counselling currently offers mental health counseling for addiction, psychosis, trauma, grief, anxiety, and depression. Lesley also is a peer supporter with Hope for Mental Health.

Her advice to anyone who has schizophrenia is to “open up about your symptoms as soon as you notice them, so mental health teams are able to provide early intervention.”