Exemplary patient experiences, always.


Exemplary Patient Experiences, Always.

Meet Erika As She Shares Her Mental Health Journey         (Mental Health Week - May 1-7)

Erika is a mother of one with a warm personality and a wicked sense of humour. Walking past Erika in the hospital, you may think she is a visitor. However, as we know with mental health, many people face daily struggles that aren’t easily recognizable.

Adding to Erika’s character is a quality that speaks most to me as I meet her – she is brave. Erika exudes fortitude and humility of someone who knows recovery is a personal and often long journey. Thankfully more and more people like Erika are speaking up and getting loud about their mental illness. Erika’s courage to “intentionally” take control of her illness and her wellbeing comes through as soon as we start our conversation.

Thank you for agreeing to share your story Erika, what was your first experience of mental health issues?

I started to have mental health issues in my teens and twenties, and I went untreated. I was living with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to manage it on my own. When I reached my mid-thirties I had a psychotic break and that’s when my mental health took a very serious turn…that’s when I got involved with Halton Healthcare. I feel very lucky that it happened in Oakville and not anywhere else because the Early Intervention Program at the Oakville Hospital (OTMH) was really great, they helped me a lot and I got better slowly but surely.

How did this affect you and your family?

Everything I was going through affected my daughter, it affected my mother, and it affected the whole family. Everyone was very terrified and scared and I was just as scared. There is a lot of stigma with psychosis and all it means is that you can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not real.

I have spent most of my life battling mental illness. It’s been a rough road for me. Now I am in recovery – I finished the intervention program at OTMH and now I have a psychiatrist who cares for me in the community. It is an ongoing journey but I have support.

If you could have your say in how mental health should be approached, what would that be?

I am excited to see that peer support is starting to be implemented. I think the next big step would be peer education, we need peer educators to go out into the community to start a conversation with people about mental health. There are also many people who won’t go forward and get help because they are afraid of the stigma. I would say to those people that there is no shame in getting help.

Now you are in recovery, how do you try to stay mentally healthy?

Now that I have been through a serious mental illness, I have to live my life intentionally. I can’t do things impulsively; everything has to be planned out ahead of time. I have to manage my stress. I have had to change the way I live my life and take control.

For example, travelling is now hard, something that was fun – my take is I lost some things but I also gained some things too.

What would you tell someone who feels like they cannot cope?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – whether that’s through your family doctor or even coming into hospital. There is no shame in getting help, that’s what it is there for.

How has this hospital, staff and physicians supported you?

At the new hospital (OTMH) the improvements to the facilities are obvious, there is so much more privacy, there is a designated area for people who come in and need to be assessed quickly and with dignity. This is called the Brief Assessment Service and is situated right beside the Emergency Department.  There are people that are trained in mental health to help you while you are in crisis.

I feel like hospitals and the community services are moving towards more health and wellness overall to support mental health.  I think this is a great step forward. Professionals are looking out for your overall health and want to explore, recognize and help treat the things in your life that are causing the symptoms.

How important are the staff and physicians?

Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest differences and can make peoples day. Staff take the time to care about me as a person and that can make a huge difference in the lives of people who are facing mental health challenges. The staff are very dedicated to their jobs and to their patients, they love what they do.

Meeting Erika to talk about her lived experience was a pleasure – as she walks through the hospital, she meets a familiar nurse, they recognize each other instantly and the smiles are big.  As I stand and experience the warmth and compassion, I think to myself that this must be one of those “small things that makes the biggest difference”.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please seek help. 

Content coming soon.