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Heroes of Mental Health

Mental illness is truly invisible, but that doesn’t make it any less real for those affected by it. These Canadian Mental Health Association staffers and volunteers dedicate their lives to helping people with mental illness recover their lives—and thrive.

Below you will find a text version of the 12-page CMHA focused article entitled “Heroes of Mental Health” that appears in the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest (on the shelves now).

These 12 pages are filled with various stories of CMHA volunteers who work tirelessly to help improve the life-quality and potential of Canadians living with mental illness — volunteers for community projects, one-on-one mentors, organizers of larger events, etc. Most of these volunteers have also been personally affected by mental-health issues — be it a parent, a child, a friend, or even the volunteer him/herself, living with, struggling with, striving to overcome the daily challenges of mental illness.

Volunteers highlighted include Drew Jacques and Chris Hill, CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming; Iman Grewal, CMHA Kitchener-Waterloo; Helen MacDonnell, CMHA, Moncton; Karen Murphy, CMHA, Ontario; Roy Muise, CMHA, Halifax; Steve Bournemann, CMHA, Haliax-Dartmouth, among others. A hearty thank you goes out to all those CMHA volunteers who took the time and effort to share their brave and precious stories with 6 million Reader’s Digest readers across this country!

One In Five Canadians Experiences A Mental Illness At Some Point, And Many Suffer In Silence Because Of The Stigma.

For the full article, please pick up a December, 2010, issue of Reader’s Digest
which contains photos and additional information.

Drew Jacques, Chris Hill and others

New Liskeard, ONT.
By William Brown

Outside a Montreal metro station, a mentally ill man begs for change in the bitter January cold; barely a soul notices him, even after he freezes to death. That may seem shocking, but who among us hasn’t avoided the plaintive gaze of a stranger in need, or even dismissed a family member or friend who might need help? Perhaps the men and women celebrated in the following pages.

These people, and thousands like them, go the extra mile for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), a nationwide charitable organization. These heroes stop. They connect with those in need. They see beyond the stigma and misconceptions that plague the mentally ill.

How did they learn to see what many of us can’t or won’t? What makes them different? Here are their stories.

At first glance, mental ­health support in New Liskeard, Ont., seems hard to come by: There are no full­time psychiatrists living in the community. While this lack of mental ­health assistance is far from ideal, it has prompted the local CMHA to find other ways of providing support. “Our responsibility is to work with people to help them move from the dire consequences of significant mental illness to recovery, which means living life to the fullest of your ability,” says Drew Jacques, 52, team lead for mental­health services at the Cochrane­Timiskaming branch of the CMHA. “Along the way, we realized there’s value in activities other than just sitting in a room, talking.”

So Jacques, his staff and his team of volunteers did more than just talk: They created a variety of group programs and outings, all in the name of offering those who live with mental illness a safe place to gather, learn, cope and give back. Activities have included community­kitchen cooking classes, yoga and sessions that allow people to express themselves through art.

Chris Hill, 34, is among the many people who have helped to shape the branch’s activities. In addition to providing weekly counselling sessions, Hill, who played university hockey, takes clients to the gym or out for hikes. “There have been times in my life,” he says, “when I’ve gone through anxious episodes or bouts of depression, and exercise has helped me.” Hill noticed the same benefits, along with improved self­esteem, in his clients.

As a result of Hill’s success, and that of two other mental­health clinicians focusing on physical activity, the CMHA paid for the three of them to become certified personal trainers. Last year, the branch launched a pilot project, Active Recovery, adding physical fitness to the many therapeutic activities the organization al­ ready offers.

For a man such as Chris Gatenby, 39, devastated in 2007 by a failed marriage and the departure of his wife and kids, Active Recovery has been a road back from an uncertain future. “I had no way of dealing with the anger,” he says of those first few months alone. “I just kept it all in­side.” He worried about harming him­ self or others. Despite being legally blind, he started boxing and working out in a gym. This helped him channel his anger—but it was still there. One day he walked into the CMHA office in New Liskeard and asked for help. That’s when he met Hill, and his recovery began in earnest. “I’m calmer nowadays, more patient, and I’m kinder to people,” Gatenby says.

His children have since returned to the region, and he is part of their lives again. Gatenby has also found fulfillment by giving back to the CMHA branch that gave him so much. He sits on two committees and helps Hill lead exercise sessions. “It’s awesome,” says Gatenby. “People are changing—becoming stronger, more social—because of me helping them.”

For team lead Jacques, Gatenby’s experience is a great example of the office’s broader goal: to help those with mental­health problems help one another. “People who may have started as clients are now supporting each other after­hours,” Jacques says. “We actually have doctors phoning us, commenting on the good work we’re doing, saying, ‘Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, because you’re having a tremendous positive impact.’”

• Reprinted with permission from the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest magazine. Copyright (c) 2010 by Reader’s Magazines Canada Limited. Further reproduction or distribution strictly prohibited.

Roy Muise

Halifax Region, N.S.
By William Brown

Panhandling is not usually expected of a man in a three­piece suit, but Dartmouth, N.S., peer counsellor Roy Muise is used to challenging people’s expectations. So when a local politician made a comment that Muise felt equated mental illness with street begging, he showed up in downtown Halifax as the best­dressed beggar around. The money he collected for the CMHA was beside the point; he used the occasion to give interviews to the media and to openly discuss some of the myths surrounding mental health.

“People are becoming more open to talking about mental illness,” says the 58­year­old Muise, “but the stigma is still there.” Muise knows: Growing up, he saw how his step­father’s struggle with depression made others in their community uncomfortable. “People would watch quietly to see if he did anything out of the ordinary,” Muise recalls.

Then, in his early 30s, Muise, too, developed the condition and suffered the stigma. After a suicide attempt and the first of several hospitalizations for depression, Muise learned his supervisor at work said he would likely never be promoted due to his mental illness. Later, during another weeks­long stay in hospital, no one came to visit Muise. “What used to go through my mind was, Why bother to get well? Nobody cares.”

But Muise cared, and he showed it by visiting with other patients. “I felt better about myself when I was able to help others,” he says.

In 1991 a social worker noticed Muise’s ability to connect with people and suggested he volunteer with the CMHA. Nineteen years later, Muise is still with the organization, and he’s done everything from fundraising to speaking at national mental­health­ awareness conferences to talking with students about the stigma surrounding depression. Through this volunteer work and his career as a peer counsellor, he has become a vocal advocate for people living with mental illness.

In 2005 Muise spoke at a Senate committee meeting on mental health. When the Senate report, “Out of the Shadows at Last,” was published the following year, he was proud to see his words on the very first page of the document: “We are not to be feared or pitied,” he had said, speaking on behalf of those with mental illness. “Remember, we are your mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, your friends, co­workers and children. Join hands with us and travel together with us on our road to recovery.”

Muise’s own road to recovery, he says, is all about “learning ways to cope and carry on with the life I want to have in spite of the illness.” He continues to do this by helping others, and he is pleased that the dialogue surrounding mental health has advanced since his stepfather’s day. “Slowly, people are getting it,” he says. “And if something I do can help, then it’s all been worthwhile.”

• Reprinted with permission from the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest magazine. Copyright (c) 2010 by Reader’s Magazines Canada Limited. Further reproduction or distribution strictly prohibited.

Iman Grewal

Kitchener Waterloo
By Mark Witten

For Iman Grewal, discussing mental illness within the community comes with some challenges. It’s a subject that is familiar in her Punjabi culture, even if the words used to describe it are not. “You have to find creative ways to talk about it,” says the 30­year­old.

Despite the obstacles, during a service at a Sikh temple in Kitchener one Sunday, the charismatic choreographer and performer found a way to raise the issue: Wearing the traditional dress of shalwar kameez, Grewal rose from a sitting position on the floor of the women’s side of the temple, walked to the podium and, in Punjabi, spoke to the congregation about the pervasiveness of mental illness. When she was done, she invited anyone who might need support to seek her help. “It was an eye­opening experience,” says Alida Abbott, who supervised Grewal when she worked at the Kitchener Downtown Community Centre, providing information and support to those who needed mental­health services. “Iman has a constant passion and perseverance for a cause that is hard and painful.”

From that day on, Grewal says, people have approached her after the weekly service, often moving from small talk to discussions about mental­health struggles and questions about the kind of support that is available. “Because of the language and cultural barriers, without someone to relate to, people won’t seek help,” she says.

Fluent in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and English, Grewal also volunteers at the CMHA Distress Centre of Waterloo Region and has run group sessions at The Self Help Alliance of Waterloo Wellington to teach people how to deal with anger, anxiety and depression.

But it’s in the one­on­one sharing of her lived experience with mental illness that she truly shows others within her ethnic community just how well she understands their pain.

When Grewal was a child, a family member was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but was too ashamed to seek counselling. “She refused to even speak about it because of the cultural stigma,” Grewal says.

As her relative’s condition worsened, Grewal and the rest of her family felt like outcasts in their Toronto Punjabi Sikh community. “We were no longer invited to cultural gatherings, friends were not coming over for tea and phone calls from relatives in India stopped,” she says.

It was only through her best friend that Grewal saw a better way to cope with mental­health problems. Her friend’s mother, who had schizophrenia, talked openly about her condition. And, because this woman followed her prescribed treatment program (unlike Grewal’s relative), “she was working, exercising and taking care of her children wonderfully,” says Grewal.

In 2009 Grewal co­organized Our True Colours, a Toronto event designed to celebrate mental­health awareness and raise funds for the CMHA. She choreographed a dance depicting a mother and daughter struggling with an illness that can be hard to explain but very real. “I’ve tried to help my relative manage her illness, and I can’t help her,” she says, noting that this family member still struggles with accepting her condition. “But I can help other people—and that helps me.”

• Reprinted with permission from the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest magazine. Copyright (c) 2010 by Reader’s Magazines Canada Limited. Further reproduction or distribution strictly prohibited.

Helen MacDonnell

Moncton, N.B.
By Mark Witten

It took an ice storm for Helen MacDonnell to learn her brother Duncan had bipolar disorder, but by then it was too late to help him: Dun­ can had taken his own life.

As she and her family gathered to mourn Duncan in their hometown of New Glasgow, N.S., in February 2003, an ice storm hit New Brunswick, where MacDonnell, then 41, lived. “I stayed on after the funeral because of the storm,” she says. “That’s when I read Duncan’s journals and learned of his diagnosis.”

She also learned he had tried for years to overcome his pain with medication, meditation, soul­searching—and other suicide attempts. One journal entry in particular, written after a failed overdose, haunted her: “Should I go to the hospital?” MacDonnell suddenly knew: “He didn’t want to die. He just wanted to end the pain, the sense of loss and failure.”

This revelation triggered her quest to understand mental illness and a desire to help other families avoid similar losses. MacDonnell was astounded to learn that one in five Canadians experiences a mental illness in his or her lifetime, and that like Duncan, many suffer in silence because of the stigma. “Why aren’t we doing more? If it were any other illness, we would be screaming ‘epidemic,’” she says.

So she decided to do something: A year after Duncan’s funeral, MacDonnell turned an annual winter party she had hosted for friends—with wine, shared stories and chocolates to chase away the winter blues—into a fundraising event for mental health. Guests invited to the inaugural Wine, Women & Wellness night, held at MacDonnell’s home, were each asked to bring a friend who was concerned about mental­health issues. That night, 54 women raised $1,250 for the CMHA­Moncton branch.

Since then, the annual all­female event has grown into a major function for CMHA branches across the Maritimes, raising more than $365,000 thus far, and has expanded to British Columbia and Ontario.

Two speakers are featured each year. A humorist “lifts us up, makes us laugh and reminds us to take care of ourselves,” says MacDonnell, and the other “touches our hearts and opens our minds to a personal experience of living with a mental illness.”

In 2009 at Wine, Women & Wellness events in Moncton, Dartmouth, N.S., and Charlottetown, 1,100 women heard CBC’s Shelagh Rogers tell her story of dealing with depression; $120,000 was raised.

Afterwards, a friend wrote to MacDonnell: “Shelagh made me realize that depression hits each person in a different way, and that what I’ve been dealing with are some of the symptoms she was describing. I’ll be having a conversation with my doctor.”

Having conversations, MacDonnell now knows, can change lives. Her dream is for Wine, Women & Wellness to become the mental­health equivalent to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s CIBC Run for the Cure. Her goal is to raise $1 million by the event’s tenth anniversary. CMHA­Moncton President Gwen Breneol has no doubt MacDonnell will succeed on both counts. “Helen has a magnetic personality,” she says. “And with her can­do attitude, she will inspire other people to help, too.”

Regardless of how successful the event becomes, MacDonnell is hopeful the tragedy of her brother’s suicide is helping to forge a new understanding about mental illness. “My mother hates reading that word [suicide] and Duncan’s name in the same sentence,” says MacDonnell, herself a mother of two. “But maybe because of what we’re doing, fewer families will see that word by their loved ones’ names.”
• Reprinted with permission from the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest magazine. Copyright (c) 2010 by Reader’s Magazines Canada Limited. Further reproduction or distribution strictly prohibited.

Steve Bornemann

Vancouver Burnaby, B.C., and Halifax-Dartmouth, N.S.
By Stacey Berman

As a kid growing up in 1940s Connecticut, Steve Bornemann loved to accompany his country­doctor father on house calls. It was during these visits that Bornemann, now 66, learned the importance of connecting with people in order to better understand their needs. “A country doctor sees everything,” he says. “My father talked to patients and their families, and together they figured out what was going to help.”

Working as a mental­health social worker in Halifax in the 1970s, Bornemann saw that the human connections he considered vital to a patient’s recovery and readjustment were routinely lacking. “Often, mental illness causes people to become estranged from their families,” he explains. “They don’t have anyone to fall back on.” Partially in response to this, he helped establish CMHA­Halifax­Dartmouth’s Building Bridges program, a one­to­one social­support initiative in which volunteers are matched with socially isolated people who have mental­health issues.

Bornemann’s career took him and his expanding family to Vancouver in 1988, but retirement in 2004 saw his return to the CMHA. He wanted to devise ways to involve family and friends in the lives of loved ones coping with mental illness. Among the initiatives he helped spearhead were the Patient and Family Information Resource Centre (set up in the psychiatry unit of the University of British Columbia Hospital) and a mental­health information line, with volunteers answering calls, emails and online bulletin­board posts from anyone affected by mental­health issues.

In June 2009 Bornemann and his wife, Jessica, moved back to Halifax to be nearer to their three children. Soon after, Bornemann became a volunteer with the same Building Bridges program he had helped establish almost 30 years earlier.

This volunteer position is a perfect fit for Bornemann, who believes that, for those with mental illness, just “being part of someone’s social network” can be a vital source of support. “I visit this fellow once a week and we have coffee, go to the library, go for fish and chips,” Bornemann says. “Plus, he’s a big film buff, so we talk about favourite movies and comb DVD stores. He’s got knowledge and ideas, and can give back, too.”

Margaret Murray, the CMHA Halifax­Dartmouth’s co­manager and Building Bridges coordinator, says Bornemann’s strength in helping others is that he “understands their struggles. He is genuine and puts people at ease. Plus, he hasn’t given up on his hopes for improving the lives of others. Volunteers such as Steve help to keep one’s faith in humanity.”

But perhaps it’s Bornemann’s small­town sensibilities that explain why he always continues to strive for that human connection: “We all have great potential,” he says. “People with mental illness are people like anyone else—sometimes you just need to try different things until something works for them and they come to life.”

• Reprinted with permission from the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest magazine. Copyright (c) 2010 by Reader’s Magazines Canada Limited. Further reproduction or distribution strictly prohibited.

Special Constable

Karen Murphy
Peel Region, ONT.

By William Brown

As a teenager working summers on a farm near her Sarnia, Ont., home, Karen Murphy spent time with a local boy named David. “He was such an outgoing kid,” she recalls. “He loved airplanes. And he was so bright.” She had no idea David had schizophrenia, and she was devastated when he killed himself.

But for Murphy, the tragedy was also a revelation. A caring youngster who would often bring hungry kids home for a meal, she suddenly learned that not everyone could be helped quite so easily. “Since then, I’ve kept my eye out for people who may need a little extra assistance.”

Murphy, 55, has done her best in that regard. Two days a week in her job as a court­liaison officer in Brampton, she makes sure that when people with mental illness who have been charged with a crime show up at her courthouse, they’re provided appropriate and timely support through a service called Mental Health Court.

Murphy helped create the Peel Region Mental Health Court a decade ago, after seeing those with psychological illness languish in jail because no one bothered to speak on their behalf. She recalls a case involving a young woman who was in custody on minor charges. “I think all she’d done was break a window,” Murphy says. “But she’d been going back and forth between the courthouse and jail for 30 days.”

The judge in the case, Katherine McLeod, agreed with Murphy that the woman didn’t belong behind bars. At this point, Murphy went beyond the call of duty and passed the hat to collect money for cab fare and clothes to replace the woman’s prison uniform, and found her a spot in a shelter.

Murphy and McLeod then collaborated with the CMHA to establish Peel’s Mental Health Court, a permanent court where judges, crown prosecutors, defence lawyers and police officers are better informed and better equipped to give prisoners with mental illness the attention and consideration they need.

Nowadays, not only do the people who appear before the Peel Region Mental Health Court have access to resources and support, but some are also referred directly for treatment assessment, forgoing criminal proceedings entirely—something that simply was not considered before.

Regardless of the legal outcomes, Murphy is a dedicated advocate for those placed in her care. She recently arranged for a woman with severe behavioural issues to be taken directly to the judge, instead of to a cell, to await her case. Although this took quite a bit of orchestrating, Murphy knew it could mean the difference between a smooth day in court and traumatic circumstances for the woman and those around her.

Over the years, Murphy has received numerous accolades for her contributions to public security and mental­health awareness. But she has never forgotten the boy who first opened her eyes to mental illness. When she won the Ontario Women in Law Enforcement Community Service Award in 2007, she mentioned David at the ceremony. “I always keep him in the back of my mind,” she says. “He is my motivation to help a person who has challenges—because that person might be your best friend.”

• Reprinted with permission from the December 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest magazine. Copyright (c) 2010 by Reader’s Magazines Canada Limited. Further reproduction or distribution strictly prohibited.

“Our responsibility is to work with people to Help tHem move from mental illness to living life to the fullest.” -Drew Jacques