I want to tell you about Brent, because his story illustrates how desperately our community needs the expanded mental health services that will be part of our newly transformed Cambridge Memorial Hospital.
Before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Brent, 32, had been “self-medicating” with street drugs, as so many people with mental illness do. The stigma around mental health issues, and the lack of affordable services, keeps many people from getting the help they need.
Brent made great progress after his diagnosis. He was running a shop in town and had been granted partial custody of his daughter. And he was doing so well at the local methadone program in kicking his drug habit that eventually he decided to give up all substances. Unfortunately, that also included his bipolar medication.
His downward spiral happened alarmingly fast.
Brent became severely depressed and anxious to the point that he tried to take his own life. Luckily, someone found him first.
The line between life and death is knife sharp for so many vulnerable people in our community. That’s why, as the new Chief of Mental Health at Cambridge Memorial, I’m so excited that our newly transformed hospital will have five more beds and expanded services for people with mental illness.
But none of this can happen without your help. Will you please send a donation today to make sure that people who are severely mentally ill get the support they so urgently need? Your gift will buy equipment for the expanded unit and fund crucial mental health services that aren’t currently available at Cambridge Memorial.
For the first time, our community hospital will have a Psychiatric ICU for people in crisis. The five additional beds will be located in this brand new unit, which will have the staffing and modern technology necessary to monitor patients 24/7. By keeping a close watch and reassessing their needs on an ongoing basis, the Psychiatric ICU will have more capacity to prevent tragedies and near misses like Brent’s suicide attempt.
Brent’s first few weeks in hospital did not go well. No matter what medications we tried, we still couldn’t stabilize his condition. We began to consider ECT (electroconvulsive therapy, what some people call “shock” therapy), which passes small electrical currents through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure.
ECT may seem extreme to some folks, but this therapy has come a long way since its early days. ECT seems to change brain chemistry in a way that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses.
We didn’t have the ability to do ECT at Cambridge Memorial. When Brent was in need, the closest hospitals that offer this three to four week treatment are in London, Kitchener or Guelph. That means finding safe transport, uprooting our patients and taking them away from their loved ones.
We were able to get Brent admitted to another hospital to try ECT. It doesn’t work for everyone, but happily, Brent started to respond positively within two weeks.
I’m so pleased to report that in the “new” Cambridge Memorial, we will soon be able to offer ECT to our patients, right in their own community. I hope this therapy will help patients like Brent, whose mental health was completely turned around by the end of his treatment!
The potential to dramatically improve someone’s quality of life is what drew me to the mental health field in the first place. The night and day difference that I’ve witnessed in patients, when I’ve been able to find the right interventions, is incredibly rewarding.
That’s why I find it so frustrating when people write off those with mental illness as being beyond help. There’s still so much awareness that needs to happen around mental health, which affects 1 in 5 Canadians directly, and many more indirectly, like their families, friends and co-workers.
Working in mental health allows me to get to know patients and their families and walk with them on their life journey for a long time. I really value that therapeutic relationship, which is a big part of why I became a physician.
Medicine gives me the opportunity to give back to my community in a tangible way by making a difference in people’s lives. And I’m incredibly passionate about community. That’s why I chose to come to Cambridge Memorial, a smaller hospital than where I did my residency, McMaster University Health Centre in Hamilton.
I think I’ve long been attracted to living and working in a smaller town because I was born and raised in Delhi, India. Delhi is a huge, hectic metropolitan city, with thousands of doctors and thousands of psychiatrists.
I always wanted to be in a smaller centre where everybody knows your name.
When I moved to Canada, I chose Hamilton over a place like Brampton, where my husband is from, or even Toronto. Even at McMaster, I just felt like a number among many, and wished I could give my patients the kind of personalized care that I felt they needed and deserved.
At Cambridge Memorial, every health care provider – be it a doctor, nurse, social worker or technician – regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty to care for our patients. I’ve not seen that happen in the same way in a large academic hospital and I don’t think it’s even possible.
When I worked at larger hospitals, it was hard to see how improvements could be made in such a complex system. But at Cambridge Memorial, I’ve shared my ideas with colleagues and the very next day, they’ve come to me to discuss ways that we can make those changes happen! I think that kind of adaptability and forward thinking is what makes Cambridge Memorial such a great community hospital.
These flexible attitudes have also helped us to break down silos and create true collaboration between our inpatient, outpatient and day hospital teams. This one-team approach benefits the patients tremendously, especially when we can connect with their family physician.
I’ve had family doctors call me for advice, and also come visit their patients on our inpatient unit. I’ve never seen that kind of dedication and cooperation between community and hospital medicine before and it was a real eye opener! The Mental Health team is planning to find ways to strengthen those relationships with family physicians in ways that will improve the entire experience for our shared patients.
As our community continues to age, Cambridge will face a growing need for elderly psychiatric resources. People automatically think of dementia and senility when it comes to seniors and mental health, but actually depression and anxiety are quite prevalent among the elderly. And it’s a problem that often goes unacknowledged.
I’m remembering one patient of mine, Alice, who is also bipolar. When she’s in her depressive state, she becomes deeply depressed. She doesn’t cause problems for anyone, she just softly isolates herself, stays at home and stops taking care of herself.
Then when she becomes manic, she drives recklessly around Cambridge, going into public places and creating havoc by getting into conflicts with people. She gets picked up by police, who take her back to her family.
The last time this happened, Alice’s family were at their wits end and told her she couldn’t live with them anymore. So Alice packed all of her belongings into her car and drove around the city, fighting with other people and even injuring herself. It was a dangerous situation that could not continue.
Eventually, the police had no choice but to bring her to Cambridge Memorial. I started her on medication, but her road to recovery took many weeks. While I got Alice back on an even keel, my team worked with her family and community agencies to get her the supports she needed to return home. Today, Alice is safe and doing well!
I’m fully aware that we would not have been able to help Brent or Alice, or the hundreds of other people who turn to us for help every year, if it weren’t for the support of wonderful people like you.
Without backing from the community, we would not be able to help keep our patients well, out of hospital, but also out of more serious situations like jail, rehab, or mental health institutions.
Your donations are literally saving lives, every day. Because of you, someone has been able to reunite with their family, keep their job, or go back to school. Every gift that you make has a profound and lasting impact on their lives.
And as my mother says, “Whatever goes round, comes round.” The more you give to the community, the more comes back to you, which means you’ll be able to help even more people. My family taught me to be thankful for being in a position where I could help others and give back to my community.
So, I’d like to ask you to take your community responsibility to the next level by becoming a monthly donor. It doesn’t have to be much, just a few dollars every month will contribute to a reliable stream of income that your community hospital can rely on to finish this remarkable transformation, buy new equipment and expand our services.
Cambridge Memorial needs you. I need you. My patients need you.
Please send your donation – whether it’s a one-time gift or a monthly pledge – today and help us finish this remarkable transformation of Cambridge Memorial that will improve and save so many lives.
Thank you for your wonderful support!
Dr. Anjali Sharma
Chief of Mental Health