Today marks “Blue Monday”, the so-called saddest day of the year. Although the idea behind the date is considered pseudoscience, it does provide an opportunity to open dialogue and conversation about mental health – which is a positive thing considering 1 in 5 people in Canada personally experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year. Stephanie Brown is one of these people. 

A mother, wife, college graduate, and co-owner of Living Alive Granola in St. Thomas, Stephanie may not be who you picture when you think of someone living with a mental illness. “There is a stigma that exists about what a person with a mental illness should look like,” says Stephanie. “It’s taken me 20 years and many types of medication to get to this point, but I don’t believe I ever fit into the stereotype of someone with a mental illness. That stereotype does not reflect the reality of a person with mental illness as a contributor to our community and someone who has succeeded in life despite obstacles.” It hasn’t been an easy road for Stephanie. There have been many doctors, many treatments, and many setbacks over the years, but Stephanie credits the support of her family and friends, and the care that she receives at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) and Dr. Giuseppe Guaiana for helping her to realize that although her bipolar disorder will never go away, she can learn to manage it. 

Dr. Guaiana, Department Chief of Psychiatry at STEGH credits the partnerships that the hospital has developed in the community as one of the strengths to the mental health program. “Our team works collaboratively with the Canadian Mental Health Association (Elgin Branch) to ensure those in crisis receive the appropriate treatment, transition support, and community services that are required,” says Guaiana. “We also partner with the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team at St. Joseph’s Health Care London to review complex cases, learn from each other, and collaboratively provide the necessary support and rehabilitation services to enable individuals to reintegrate into the community.” 

While the mental health program at STEGH has been operating for five years, the unit moved into the hospital’s new North Tower in February 2018. The unit includes 15 beds for inpatients that require short-term hospitalization and dedicated space for related outpatient programs and services. Referrals for services at STEGH can be made by a regulated health care professional on behalf of the individual requiring support. 

For Stephanie, it’s not just the updated amenities or welcoming environment (although she does enjoy spending time in the inside courtyard!), it’s the team of psychiatrists, nurses, counsellors, and social workers that make all the difference. “STEGH is a place where I go to get better. I feel at home, and everyone talks to me like I matter,” says Stephanie, who adds jokingly, “and the food’s not bad either!” 

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, by age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness. It important to recognize the signs, and seek help when required. 

If you or someone you know needs help: 

• Talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner. 

• Contact REACH OUT Mental Health Addictions Crisis Services 519-433-2023 or 1-866-933-2023 http://www.reachout247.ca

• Contact Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) – Elgin Branch 519-633-1781 or 1-855-633-1781 http://www.cmhaelgin.ca/