April 7, 2011 London’s Canadian Mental Health Association in partnership with St Joseph’s Health Care Foundation hosted its annual Breakfast of Champions. This was the fifth year for the breakfast celebration with approximately 1000 people in attendance. Everyone came together with one goal, to support those who live with mental illness. There are two very important features of the Breakfast gathering. First is the Champion of Mental Health Award presentation, and second is the keynote speaker who addresses the gathering as they enjoy their delicious breakfast.
This year the Champion of Mental Health Award had 11 nominations, two of which are part of the WOTCH community. Christine Sansom, who is the director of Clinical Services at WOTCH was nominated, as was WOTCH. Christine’s nomination stated that she is known for, “her boundless energy, and respect for her colleagues, and dedication to her clients.” The nomination for WOTCH, said, “WOTCH provides a beacon of hope for its clients and their families by ‘watching’ over them as they travel through dark times.” However, this year the recipient for the Champion of Mental Health Award went to Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, a Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Western Ontario.
The Keynote Speakers for this year’s Breakfast of Champions; well known Canadian Journalist and former CTV morning show anchor, Valerie Pringle and her daughter Catherine.
In 2007 Catherine worked as Deputy Press Secretary for the PC Party Provincial Campaign. Only a few weeks into her new job severe panic and anxiety attacks forced her to take a sick leave. Unable to work, she sought treatment at the Center for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto. She was off work for a number of weeks and when she returned she did one of the hardest things she has every done. She disclosed her illness to her boss. He was sympathetic to her condition since he also knew someone who was suffering with anxiety and panic attacks. But she soon realized that she was viewing her own condition with a self impose prejudice, she saw herself as crazy.
Catherine, with the support of family quickly changed her own ideas and realized that the “cone of silence” would be lifted with them. Catherine and her mother Valerie decided they would become advocates for Mental Illness with the intention of busting up the deeply rooted stigma which is so prevalent. As Valerie stated, “despite its prevalence, mental illness has a silence about it that runs deep. How often do we read in an obituary that schizophrenia or depression was the cause of death?” Furthermore, when Valerie toured the Center for Addictions and Mental Health Hospital she noticed there was not even a gift shop since the patients did not receive the visitors that another ill person would. Left alone to recover in a typical mid-nineteenth century hospital with cages and little light Valerie realized this was not just any issue; it was an issue of social justice.
Catherine’s story of mental illness and her recovery is linear. She got so sick she could not work; she realized she needed help; she asked for help, and then she found help and she recovered. When Catherine and Valerie were asked if they could comment on the struggles they faced in their recovery, both explained that their story did not include a great deal of struggle. Catherine realizes she is lucky that way, however, “we do have people who find us on Facebook and ask us where are we to go, we have tried everything we can think of. The challenge with something where you’re still trying to breakdown its barriers is that often times you do not have the answer, since there are not the services in place.” Mother and daughter both hope that with a focus on raising awareness they will also raise much needed funding for Mental Health care here in Canada.
©Holly Ballantyne 2011