Twenty-two years ago, our family lost a son and a brother to suicide. Our son Todd was a beautiful, gifted young man who lived a life of turmoil.
Todd had a severe sleep disorder and over the years was diagnosed as manic depressive, bipolar, chemically imbalanced, and schizophrenic. Todd was more than his illness, but along the way he lost hope and then we lost him. He was 37 years old when he took his life.
I have always been open about Todd’s suicide. Addressing this stigma allowed me to be vulnerable and honest with my friends and community. People wanted to help, and this vulnerability was the permission they needed to support me during this time. This vulnerability also had a ripple effect; others became a little more comfortable talking about mental health and how it was impacting them.
I tell Todd’s story and my story because there is stigma towards mental healthcare that we do not attach to other health needs. We don’t judge people with cancer, with arthritis. Mental illness is a disease—like any other. If there is an imbalance in your heart, it gets treated. If there is an imbalance in your head, it somehow gets treated differently.
The stress of Todd’s death was what brought on my own mental health experience, and treatment at Royal Jubilee Hospital (RJH). I knew I needed to ask for help. I knew this because of Todd.
My family doctor, psychiatrist, and the caregivers at RJH’s Eric Martin Pavilion helped me successfully navigate this difficult period. They saved my life. Many friends, and my continued commitment to mental wellness, keeps me strong today.
Following this care journey, my ex-husband Peter and I engaged the Victoria Hospitals Foundation to support the enhancement of Psychiatric Emergency Services at RJH, which at the time was a pioneer unit and the first in the region.
Like any kind of illness, getting access to the right care, in a timely manner, can make the difference. We were able to provide Todd with good care, and because of that we had 37 years with him. Without this care, he would have succumbed to his illness much sooner. We cherish those extra years we had.
Today, I want to speak in support of Equipped to Heal, a new campaign for mental health services in our hospitals. One aspect of this campaign is a recently opened 20-bed mental health unit at Royal Jubilee Hospital, the same place where I found help when I needed it.
Our family lost our only son and brother to suicide. However, we did not lose hope. There is hope for those of us who have experienced a mental illness. It is solvable. I invite you to cause a ripple—be vulnerable and talk about mental illness. Together, we can support each other.