Reduce the stigma, increase the recovery


By: Sharon Bishin

Last October, Rachel, her mother Evelyn (not their real names) and the family dog Dusty participated with another estimated 1,000 plus people in MONTREAL WALKS for Mental Health – a two kilometer event to help increase public awareness about mental illness and eliminate its stigma. They are just two of the real people behind the statistic that one in five people in Canada is touched by mental illness in their lifetime.

Ten years ago, Ometz was part of the organizing committee for the walk, which has grown exponentially in the number of participants and funds raised. Each year, the MONTREAL WALKS for Mental Health Foundation awards grants to non-profit organizations like Ometz, that provide much needed mental health support services and promote recovery in the community.

According to Marcie Klein, Manager of Mental Health Support Services at Ometz, this focus on recovery is one of the major objectives for her unit.

“Recovery does not necessarily mean a cure, but rather focuses on people recovering a meaningful life while making the most of their strengths and capacities,” says Klein.

Ometz Chief Program Officer, Susan Karpman, who oversees the Mental Health Department, says the goal is to support their clients towards self-sufficiency by reducing isolation, promoting autonomy and equipping them with necessary life and coping skills.

“When we have given our clients the foundation, skills and support to flourish on their own, we’ve achieved our objectives,” adds Karpman.

This is not always a speedy process and the department’s caseload of 200 people a year is not diminishing anytime soon. The professional team, made up of social workers, adult educators and special care counsellors, deals with a variety of issues and challenges faced by people living with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety disorder, many of whom live well below the poverty line and fall through the cracks of Montreal’s overloaded public health care system.

The walker Rachel – mentioned earlier in the story – is a perfect example. A 45-year- old woman diagnosed with schizophrenia, she was having difficulty managing her day-to-day affairs including budgeting, keeping her apartment clean, and staying on top of the laundry. In addition, she felt very isolated and disconnected from the community, though she very much wanted to stay independent in her own space. Her appointments with her psychiatrist were infrequent and focused only on her medication renewals. She was rapidly becoming overwhelmed with simply sustaining her existence. Referred to Ometz by her doctor, she established a relationship with an Ometz worker and together they developed a plan to help reestablish ties with her family, advocate for and access available health care and community services, and help her cope with organizing her daily chores.

“We seriously doubted that Rachel could continue living on her own and were despairing seeing her anxiety increase each month,” explains her mom, Evelyn. “But from the moment Ometz got involved, Rachel’s outlook has turned around and her quality of life has improved hugely. We are so grateful.”

The Ometz Mental Health team is also now focusing its’ efforts on supporting young adults living with high functioning autism spectrum disorder and/or mild intellectual challenges, offering intensive service and programs in the areas of independent living skills, social skills and exploring education and employment options.

Beyond the obvious success and relief offered to the people involved and their loved ones, the other important contribution is toward minimizing the stigma of mental illness. Certainly it helps that the public is being sensitized as more celebrities speak publicly about their mental health struggles and campaigns such as “Bell Let’s Talk” try to normalize the topic. But just as powerful, as each client takes steps in their own recovery journey, there is the opportunity for everyone they encounter to have a changed understanding of the capabilities, potential and diversity of those who live with mental illness….to understand, accept and appreciate.

The 10th edition of MONTREAL WALKS will take place on Sunday, October 14th at Place Emilie-Gamelin (next to Berri-UQAM metro). Registration opens at 10am and the Walk starts at 11am. Registration is free and can be found here.

If you would like more information about the support options the Community Mental Health Support Services at Ometz provides, please call: (514) 342-0000 loc. 3412

Sharon Bishin has been the Corporate and Employability trainer at Ometz for the past nine years.

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