Our Stories

Our Stories

We know that too many Ontarians are not getting the addiction and mental health care they need. We know that too many Ontarians are waiting too long for care when they need it most. We know that our province is facing an unprecedented opioid crisis and that our hospitals are struggling to care for people in crisis who are showing up in their emergency rooms. We also know that we can change this.

AMHO represents more than 200 community-based addiction and mental health organizations across the province. Our members are on the frontline caring for people struggling with an addiction or their mental health. We know that we can change lives because we work where change happens.

Adrienne’s Story

We were in a movie theatre when it finally hit me that my dad was really sick.

A man walked in alone and sat down. My dad leaned in and told me, “He’s here to watch me because I’m here with you.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this from him, but it was the first time I challenged him on it.

“You just don’t know Adrienne. You just don’t know,” he said.

continue reading Adrienne's story

My father’s illness had been a constant throughout my life, but denial is a powerful thing. He was an English and art teacher, social and charismatic when I was young. He was a talented artist and musician, and generous with a great sense of humour.

But his eccentricities were more apparent by the time I was in high school — and to be honest, his unpredictability a source of anxiety and embarrassment.

Later, as he grew more and more isolated, more paranoid, my responsibility to him as a daughter, and my connection to the man he had been before, became a heavy weight to carry.

I knew what was happening to him was more than a changing character — it was an illness that was getting progressively worse. I sought out other family who had known him for decades, but their response at the time was that he was just a little down. That it was temporary. That he’d get through it.

Since our family’s experience, the public conversation around mental health awareness and support has significantly reduced the stigma faced by sufferers and their families. But crucial services and the processes in our system for helping people in crisis have not kept up.

It’s been almost three years since I lost my father, and we faced countless barriers in the system along that journey. In light of Mental Health week, it’s time to share my family’s story.

The last time I saw my dad, I asked him to dance with me at my wedding. We never spoke again after that.

When I called, he didn’t answer. His invitation was sent, and there was no response. I called again, repeatedly. I went to his condo, but he didn’t answer the door.

He never made it to my wedding.

Nearly three years later, the police contacted me with the news. The few answers that came in the days, weeks and months that followed did little to staunch my guilt and grief.

I had looked everywhere over the years for support to help get him better. I sought out my own therapy to work through the effects of my father on my health — trying to support him while trying to set boundaries, as so many family members in these situations must, in hopes his illness wouldn’t swallow me whole with him.

By the time my dad was found, the coroner wasn’t able to determine exactly when or how he had died.  But in his belongings, there were signs of a man failed by the same system that I had struggled to navigate for him.

It was clear in the drawings he left behind and by the more than one hundred notebooks in his apartment, filled with meticulously handwritten delusions about our family history.

In the stacks of papers, there were also documents from his benefits provider.

My dad had been involuntarily admitted for psychiatric care in the previous year and was held for 12 days in hospital.

He was discharged with a prescription for Risperdal — a drug commonly used to treat patients with schizophrenia — and sent on his way, apparently with no plan for outpatient care or follow up.

He never filled out the prescription. Not one person in our family had been contacted about his hospitalization.

I carry my dad with me in everything I do. I keep his memory alive with my children, who never got to meet him. Mental illness often affects generations, and I do worry my father’s illness, and even my own resulting mental health issues, may one day rear its head in my kids. I want to be better for them than he was able to be for me, and I want their support system to be better than what he received.

My grief, not just in losing my father but in not being able to help him for so long, motivates me in my work with Addictions and Mental Health Ontario. I work for improvements for people like him — and for people, like me, who care for people like him.

One in five Canadians will experience a mental health crisis in their lifetime. My family is one family, and our story is one story, but there are thousands of families out there who need the kind of care and access to support that mine didn’t get. It’s crucial there be a continued commitment to building a system that, while improving, still has wide gaps in care.

The conversation is changing, but our system and the services it provides must catch up.

People’s lives are on the line, and they matter — especially to those who love them.

Gary’s Story

Stonehenge Therapeutic Community

At the young age of 17, Gary found himself in trouble with the law and began running away from problems that were sure to land him in jail.

For the next seventeen years, Gary moved all around the country looking for a fresh start. At the age of 35, unable to escape his problems, Gary began contemplating suicide. At this point he knew that help, and long-term treatment was the only option he had to save his life.

continue reading Gary's story

Gary moved back to Ontario and turned to Stonehenge Therapeutic Community treatment centre in Guelph for help. Unfortunately, he was faced with a 6 month wait and no other options for him to get the long-term treatment he needed.

This is something that not only Gary, but many people who are struggling with addiction and mental health challenges face every day — long waitlists for treatment and a lack of support and services for those who need it.

Thankfully, Gary was able to wait long enough to get into a treatment program that changed his life.

From the moment Gary stepped foot in Stonehenge, he felt right at home. He credits all the staff for their hard work and more importantly, for saving his life. As a result of their ongoing care and support, Gary was able to forgive himself for the mistakes he made in the past and for the first time in his life feel like he had a hopeful future.

“It has been 9 years since I first stepped foot onto STC property, and I now believe that I am a good person!! This hasn’t kept me clean for 9 years but I do work hard every day to stay clean. It has been over 2 years since my last relapse. I found that it takes more than 6 months to get healthy and that Stonehenge is only the start of an amazing journey called life!!”

Will’s Story

Durham Mental Health Services

Will is a talented musician who enjoys playing guitar, bass and mandolin. He’s been actively performing to audiences since the mid-1980s. He is also a professional guitar instructor who has taught for almost 20 years.

Growing up in an abusive household led to issues with drug dependency and failed relationships. Eventually, Will was diagnosed with PTSD, ADHD, anxiety and depression.

continue reading Will's story

With the help of DMHS and other supports, Will has been actively pursuing wellness and recovery, getting involved in peer support work and using his music as a tool to help others, here is his story:
Growing up was rough. My adoptive parents were physically and emotionally abusive, so I carried the burden of dealing with that abuse into adulthood. As an unwanted child I had issues with self-esteem. I found it difficult to maintain healthy relationships, and I had a real problem with authority. I ran with a rough crowd. The only reason I didn’t end up in jail was because I found a passion for music, which gave me something to focus on, something to be proud of, and something to do – within a year, I was in my first band. 
My problems continued despite my success as a musician. When my marriage fell apart in 2013, I realized that my problems were bigger than me, and that I couldn’t continue to deal with my issues on my own. I reached out at that time to many social services, eventually finding the great people at DMHS. 
I’ve found that DMHS staff go above and beyond in ensuring the health and wellness of their clients. They take a really personal, hands-on approach and show an honest interest in every person they serve. Through my association with DMHS, I experienced a powerful sense of belonging and a genuine acceptance. In addition to getting support from Crisis Services, which was a great help, I am now participating in the WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) Program and am also very active in the weekly Wellness/Music Group. It’s meant everything to me to know I have so many good people solidly in my corner. 
Looking forward, I want to give back what I’ve received by becoming a professional Peer Support Specialist. I want to support people the way DMHS has supported me. I will maintain my own health and wellness with the support of the services and programs that are offered at DMHS. For anybody that’s heard about DMHS but is unsure about reaching out, I would strongly urge that they get in contact with a Crisis Worker and avail themselves of the many excellent services that they provide. 
Wishing great health and wellness – mental, physical, emotional – to all! 

Abbey’s Story

Pine River Institute

“I thought I was in control, but I wasn’t,” says Abbey. Now 18 years old, she looks back at her 14-year-old self with clear eyes and no judgment. “I started falling behind in school in Grade 7 and 8. I began smoking pot, talking back to teachers, feeling super anxious,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what to do with the anxiety, so I projected as a very carefree girl, but that made it worse.”

continue reading Abbey's story

The situation escalated rapidly. Abbey’s parents divorced, her mother re-married and she moved into a new home. “A lot of trust was broken with my family,” she says. “I lied to them, I stole from them. There were already feelings of stress and sadness about where our family stood. Having me in the centre, pushing them further apart, was really difficult for my parents.”

At 14, Abbey was approaching a place she might not come back from. Her parents gave her a choice: between Pine River and foster care. Abbey spent 17 months at Pine River. “Pine River doesn’t fix the problem,” she says. “It pushes you to get where you need to be.”

Her transition home was difficult; she felt anxious in public, on transit, being around so many strangers. “I slipped up a bit after I left Pine River,” she says. “I chose to go back to weed, then things got worse. The biggest part of my story is that Pine River didn’t help immediately, but the things I learned help me now. I’ve been sober 400+ days.

“I still struggle with the things I dealt with before, but the training and knowledge and support I received from everybody at Pine River pushed me to be more level headed and steady, to not over-react and over-compensate for things and to not over-stimulate myself.I like being able to take a breath, relax, and figure out where I want to be and what I want to be doing. I’m probably the most organized I’ve ever been.” Now, her boss and colleagues and parents of the kids she babysits often remark on her thoughtful communication style.

They tell her she’s got a good head on your shoulders. She’s re-built relationships within her family. School has remained a challenge. “I finally found my flow, and I’m finishing high school after 4 years,” she says. She’s open about her struggles. “Everybody struggles,” she says.

“As long as I can declare my feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, jealousy, with people around me who honour my feelings, I’m able to name my emotions. There’s no more silence.”

Donna’s Story

Hong Fook Mental Health Association

Coming from a mixed European and aboriginal backgrounds, 61-year-old Donna, who was on street for over 5 years and now lives in a Scarborough social housing apartment, has suffered from back and head injury due to past physical abuse, diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and alcohol abuse.

continue reading Donna's story

According to Donna, it has been difficult to live in a “negative” environment with bad influence of people, resulting in a habit of drinking 7 days a week that made her get very sick. The painful past of losing connection with family especially her daughter (who has no contact with her for a long time) and the physical and emotional abuse from significant males in the past led to her low self-esteem.

Yet, things started to change since Donna first accessed the Community Paramedic-Led Clinic (CPLC) run by paramedics from Toronto Paramedic Services, Hong Fook’s Mental Health and Addiction Outreach Worker and COTA’s Geriatric Case Manager in her building in late 2017. With the wraparound support by the inter-professional team, she started to have a true feeling of “life” instead of just “existence”.

Donna began to look after her health by taking blood pressure and blood sugar screening at CPLC. For the past month, Donna drank only 3 beers per day. She also cut down from 2-2.5 pack to 10-15 cigarettes daily. Her mood becomes much better through the ongoing counselling. Not only that, she’s also been actively accessing various community programs based on referrals and secured a community fund to replace the battery of her scooter so that she can access medical appointments, food bank and nearby places.

Today, Donna has started to receive Case Management service from COTA. She continues working hard on reducing her beer and cigarette consumption as she no longer feels like relying on them. She is getting new hobbies of writing and making pottery. She is planning to pay off all her debts by next month. Donna said all the support around her has motivated her to move on.

These stories demonstrate what’s possible when we provide support to someone struggling with an addiction or their mental health. They remind us of how important it is to ensure all Ontarians have access to the addiction and mental supports they need.