Letters to the editor: Group helps break the isolation of mental illness

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I have suffered from depression and anxiety for about 30 years. In more recent years, the depression developed into Major Depressive Disorder. I tried dozens of medications and combinations of meds. I met regularly with my psychiatrist and counsellor and attended programs meant to complement my medical treatment. The goal was to bring me out of the depression.

While I explored different treatments with doctors, my mother handed me an ad for the Beaches Mental Wellness Group, a weekly peer-to-peer support group at Community Centre 55 on Main Street.

Saying I was apprehensive was an understatement. What kind of people would be there? Could I even fight the anxiety off enough to walk through the door? Would it do any good? Would hearing about others struggles set me back? Would I have a panic attack and embarrass myself?

Despite my worries, I managed to get there. Not only did I survive the experience, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The facilitator was soft spoken, inclusive, and made sure everyone who wanted to share could. He also reassured those that weren’t comfortable that it was enough to show up, listen and observe.

I looked forward to seeing the friendly faces of the diverse group each week. Even though we didn’t see each other outside of group, you start to feel connected and you care how they are doing. Mental illness can be very isolating and the fact that you can drop into this group when you are up to the challenge of leaving the house is a wonderful option.

Over time, my depression worsened and I couldn’t attend group as often, but I kept in touch. Being able to check in and know that someone cared was a comfort.

I never gave up on pursuing treatment options, and early in 2017 I joined a clinical study for Deep Brain Stimulation treatment at Toronto Western Hospital. They drilled holes into my skull, implanted electrodes directly into my brain and ran wires down my neck to an Impulse Generator. It seems a little Sci-Fi – I even had a child refer to me as a “cyborg.” I’m okay with that because it worked.

As the months went by, the fog lifted. In September, when the study completed, the psychiatrist who closely monitored my mood and behaviour said, “I can honestly say you are not depressed.” My life has changed so much; my depression is in remission, the anxiety continues to be a struggle, but I moved to Bracebridge, have a job I love and life is good – in fact, life is great.

Had it not been for the Beaches Mental Wellness group back in 2015, I don’t know that I could have got to this point. This group provides a safe, supportive, non-judgmental environment for people to share their challenges, personal experience, knowledge of resources and, most importantly, their achievements and successes.

If there is anyone in the area struggling, stop by Community Centre 55 and meet the amazing people that make this group great. We all have challenges but those of us dealing with mental illness face daily comments that aren’t helpful at all including “suck it up,” “just be happy,” etc. It is sad that some people don’t have understanding family and friends, but it is comforting to have a place to go where people truly can relate and offer support.

Julie Richard


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Some comfort, encouragement, and deeply personal understanding can come from people sharing their experience and their depth of despair and isolation associated with constant depression. Peer groups work well and this group, in my view, is leading edge and a lot of the credit goes to Jason Balgopal who had the courage and the incredible internal fortitude to cope with depression by taking control of it by talking about it and sharing it.

Julie Richard is a stellar example of a person in a hideous battle with depression and her letter is a triumphant exclamation of ‘achievement and success’.

Julie, I am so happy for you. You have come a long way. Miss you dearly. I watched and listened to you and have admired your tenacity and watching your little girl grow strong with you. My special moment was when your little lady cut her hair like yours for your surgery. That’s bravery and love. We have our challenges, and you have come out on top!

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