Last year, our west-end neighbours made 60,600 visits to St. Joe’s for mental health or addiction care. St. Joe’s patients come from all walks of life, here are some of their stories.
A few years ago I became ill, very ill. I know now that I was mentally ill. I was depressed. I didn’t understand at the time just how sick I was, or how dangerous depression can become if left untreated. That’s why although it is hard, it’s important I share my story so I can help others. Like any illness, it can happen to anyone, but unlike other illnesses, mental illness often comes with a stigma, a helplessness that stopped me from seeking treatment. I didn’t feel like I was deserving of help. Mental illness can be life threatening if it goes untreated. And for me, I had a close call.
My hope is others will listen when I say you can get to a place where you wake up, safe and warm surrounded by professionals who say, ‘what you have is treatable and curable and you will be fine.’ To those around me I appeared to be a happy, successful 49-year-old male, with a great job, a wonderful wife, two amazing kids, and a lovely home. Yet, behind all of that, I was silently suffering, a pain I chose to hide it from everyone at work, my friends, and my family. I was trying to hang on every day…just to make it through one more.
Early one morning, after another sleepless night, I walked through my home for what I thought was the very last time, silently saying goodbye to my family as they slept. I walked out the front door, leaving my house and headed downtown to the streets to live, to figure out my next steps. I was so sad, and scared, and cold.
I decided to go to my office that morning one last time, and I sat in my office as it became daylight. My wife called me mid-morning and asked me to come home. That night I was admitted as a live-in patient at a Toronto psych unit.
I was quickly diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, which, because it had gone untreated had progressed to a very dangerous stage with psychotic features.
In a couple of weeks of living in a psych ward, with proper medication and counselling, I started to feel better. After three weeks, I started a four-week live-in cognitive behavior therapy program. Now, I am better than ever. I have been taught the skills, found the support and have new insight about how to live a fuller life.
St. Joseph’s is my local hospital. Our family has used it many times when our kids were growing up, and the staff are amazing. So when I was looking for a way to get involved and help others with mental illness, my friend Dave Raymond suggested I come to an evening at the hospital and take a tour of the mental health emergency ward. What I saw that night motivated me to become involved in their efforts to improve the facility.
When you are not well and finally decide to seek help, it’s very important that the medical facility be a peaceful and welcoming space. Right now, the space falls short. However, the vision is to make it better. And thanks to support from neighbours like you and me, it’s possible.
Meredith Omstead says she was proud of being a perfectionist until her body and mind could no longer handle the stress she
placed upon herself. At the St. Joe’s Plate event in June, Meredith bravely told her story beginning with her first panic attack.
After months of intrusive thoughts, something Meredith described as “nightmares but while I was awake,” she knew she needed help. “The ride to St. Joe’s was one of the scariest things I’ve ever encountered. Fear comes from the unknown, and I had no idea what to expect.”
At the age of 19, Meredith was admitted to the Health Centre’s Mental Health Emergency Services Unit – what she now describes as “something from a horror movie… I really didn’t feel safe.”
This is the same unit that will soon feel like a healing environment for patients, thanks to donors like you who have come forward to help. The new Mental Health Emergency Services Unit will re-open later this year, and is designed to be warm and welcoming for adults, youth and children, who will be treated in separate, private areas.
The new unit will go a long way in helping people like Meredith begin their journey to recovery. Meredith is now thriving after getting the care she needed and hopes people continue to support mental health care. “Mental health is health, and we need to treat it like we treat physical health – from the way our system is run, to being transparent about how you’re feeling to understanding that recovery is attainable.”