Author: Kelly S. Thompson and Jane Kelly
Originally published in Watershed Magazine: A Burden Shared Is A Burden Halved
Maurice Rollins’ willingness to talk openly about mental illness and to share his own experiences, gives us hope and a better understanding of the stigma, the treatments and acceptance of an illness that knows no boundaries.
TO LOOK AT MAURICE ROLLINS, successful Belleville-based businessman and philanthropist, you’d never guess that underneath the tailored suit and steely exterior is a man who was born on the kitchen table in Tweed in 1927. His family moved to Belleville when the world was on the brink of the Great Depression. He still remembers scores of jobless men riding into Belleville on freight trains, in search of work and knocking on doors looking for food. Despite his 91 years, there are vestiges of the determined teenager who excelled at Belleville Collegiate Institute, the streetfighter whose gang protected Charles Street, the spirited student who slipped out of the classroom window and headed to Lafferty’s pool hall for the afternoon, the strapping young athlete who ferried girlfriends on his arm with a mickey in his back pocket.
Today, Maurice Rollins is a pillar of his community. He uses the fortune that he built from his hotel chain and his construction business to support any number of causes throughout the region.
But there is another side to Rollins, one that is hard to reconcile with the successes he has chalked up over the years. His life has been punctuated by periods of depression that started when he was 17 years old and have haunted him for most of his life. When Rollins faced his first bout in the 1940s, mental illness wasn’t spoken about and understanding of its complexity was limited, as was the spectrum of treatment. And yet, over the years he persisted – enduring electric shock treatments administered first by the Head Psychiatrist at the Kingston Federal Penitentiary and later by a psychiatrist who worked out of New York State.
Despite the steady growth of his construction business, Rollins always knew that the next attack was lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce at any given moment. “A lot of people wouldn’t even know what I was going through,” Rollins said from his office overlooking Front Street. “So you just keep going.”
Rollins’ battle with depression reflects the struggle of many, although he could be considered one of the “lucky” ones who understands his illness and has sought out treatment. Many others don’t have the understanding or access to the resources to fight their illness. If you check out the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) website, studies show that at any one time, one in five people across Canada struggles with mental illness or put another way, more than half of all Canadians are likely to experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime.
WHAT DOES MENTAL ILLNESS LOOK LIKE?
Mental illness occurs when the brain isn’t working properly. It’s a disease that affects your ability to function on a day-to-day basis and interferes with relationships, often leading to social isolation. Although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists close to 200 disorders that are potential roadblocks to a stable and productive life, most of these disorders fall within the categories of depression, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders.
HOW DO YOU GET MENTAL ILLNESS?
Like any other medical condition, mental illness seems to be the result of an interaction of physical, environmental, and social factors. Some afflictions are passed along genetically, sometimes from generation to generation and at other times, skipping a generation. Psychological trauma – death, sexual abuse, injury, combat experiences, drug use – can also trigger mental health problems. The amount of stress people are under at work and at home impacts mental health, especially in situations where individuals are unable to change their circumstances. It is a combination of stresses and the hereditary nature of mental health that push people into the dark recesses. Mental illness is a progressive disease that can become an overwhelming financial and emotional burden. Treatment is multi-layered and multi-facetted – from drug therapy, cognitive therapy, psychotherapy, neuro-stimulation to behaviour therapy.
One of the most surprising statistics associated with those people who experience mental illness is that 49% have not seen, or will not see a doctor about the problem. The question is “Why?”
To even begin to answer the question, is to first recognize that despite the recent attempts to increase public understanding of mental health, there is a still a stigma attached to the illness. It carries with it a connotation of weakness and personal shame. And shame adds to a person’s sense of isolation.
As a society, we are slowly learning and understanding more about the illness but we still have a long way to go. Patients battling depression need the same compassion and standard of care afforded to patients with broken bones, breast cancer and knee replacements.
Delivering the care is difficult when just 7% of all healthcare dollars are spent on mental health. In fact, critics believe that Canadian mental healthcare is underfunded by approximately $1.5 billion. The biggest problem facing people who suffer mental illness is that there simply aren’t enough doctors to go around, specialists in particular.
While the Watershed region is a reflection of the state of mental healthcare in Canada, it also faces unique challenges. Our region hosts a population pool that requires some forward thinking when it comes to supporting those with mental illness. First of all, Trenton is home to the largest Royal Canadian Air Force Wing in Canada and their families, as well as a large community of veterans who choose to retire locally.
The base receives a steady influx of soldiers and their families who face distinct challenges on a cyclical basis: Military families uproot themselves every two or three years, leaving behind friends, family, familiar doctors and personal ties – an experience that is often compared to losing a loved one. One military spouse who has suffered with anxiety and depression since she was a teenager, confided, “Our move from the east coast to Trenton really set off my anxiety and it was to a point where I couldn’t function properly, so I was told I should try to reach out to the MFRC (The Military Family Resource Centre).” MFRC is “dedicated to supporting, enriching and enhancing the lives of our military families”. She had an appointment with a counsellor within two weeks, a speed of service that speaks to the increasingly sensitive response by the military community.
A soldier’s job is intense. Veterans Affairs Canada estimates that up to 30% veterans will go on to experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Lisa-Marie Guernon and Glenn McVeen, two veterans who retired in the Quinte area, understand the pressures on Canadian soldiers – they both have survived military-related PTSD. Their shared experiences prompted them to talk publicly about the role of communication on mental health. They started the “Bite the Bullet” program – a two-hour motivational presentation that mixes personal experience with a splash of humour to promote healing through peer support and the understanding that none of us are alone.
And there are also four correctional facilities within 100-kilometres of our borders – the Warkworth Institution, The Millhaven Institution, Collins Bay Institution and the Central East Correctional Centre (Lindsay). Former prisoners are often released into the prison region where they served their time, due to parole conditions. A study by the John Howard Society of Toronto in 2010, noted that “nearly half of those released from prisons head into homelessness, the likelihood of which is significantly increased for those with mental illness and addiction, which studies show have a high prevalence amongst inmates”.
The John Howard Society, with offices in Belleville, Oshawa and Peterborough, offers programs that help former inmates navigate through “life after incarceration” but often former inmates become part of the “homeless statistic” – those who are unable to work because of addiction or mental health problems.
Jeff Waplak, Registered Psychotherapist and Clinical Director at Belleville’s Stevenson, Waplak & Associates notes that, “Sometimes those who are harder to serve are the ones who need the most service.” He goes on to say that caring for these patients becomes more complicated as their lives become intertwined with police and hospital admissions, and their problems become more unmanageable as they are caught in the cycle of poverty, homelessness and job instability. He asks, “How does one cope and create a lifestyle that doesn’t trigger those elements?” Without treatment and considering the plenitude of comorbid factors, mental health can be an endless circle of tail chasing.
Dealing with a population that Jeff Waplak describes as having a greater tendency to struggle with depression, homelessness and high rates of addiction, poses challenges. And government agencies struggle to meet the needs of its most vulnerable citizens. There are innovative programs designed to mitigate risk, heal through counselling and provide greater access to care when patients need it the most but their resources are stretched.
And then there are the less visible victims – the people who deal with their mental health problems while desperately hanging on to whatever sense of propriety they can manage.
Their battles to manage their mental illness is no less significant than the less fortunate; their need for access to professionals who can help them, no less urgent. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It disregards social standing, income level and age, striking in the same way as any other medical condition.
Knowing that we aren’t alone seems to be a key element that resonates within the programs offered throughout the region. They say “a burden shared is a burden halved”. Relief and respite for those coping with illness – no matter what the hurdles ahead – is possible when we openly “out” this disease that inveigles its way into our lives.
Proof is on our very doorsteps. Despite his struggles with mental illness, over his career, Maurice Rollins’ Journey’s End hotel chain once made him the largest hotelier in Canada. His office, where he goes to work early every morning and is on the constant prowl for new investments, is full of mementos of a life well-led and tributes from the many charities he supports.
In 2015, Rollins helped the Belleville branch of the CMHA develop the Maurice Rollins Centre of Hope for people looking for advice and care about mental health problems. The CMHA nominated him for the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship, which he was awarded this past January. Rollins has donated all proceeds from his biography, The Remarkable Journey of Maurice Rollins, to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Rollins has made it his mission to end the stigma associated with mental illness. At 91 years old, he is an unlikely poster boy for mental illness but he has chosen to speak out for those less fortunate than himself. He is willing to discuss his illness and its effect on his life with honesty and candour.
Sometimes, the simple act of acknowledging illness and supporting those around us who are struggling is the critical first step. And when treatment is needed, there are innovative programs waiting to help patients and families on the path to healing.
For those coping with mental illness, and their families, you are never alone and help is at your fingertips. Check out these resources, links and contacts below.
QUINTE, HASTINGS AND PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY
Addictions and Mental Health Services in Hastings Prince Edward (AMHSPE)
When AMHSPE considered the long waitlists for access to treatment, they developed a unique service. The Open- Line, OpenMind program provides a free, confidential phone-in service that is open daily, all day. By calling in, clients receive immediate access to mental health supports when they are in crisis.
The AMHSPE Family Support Program offers a twelveweek course for family members of someone living with mental illness. The free course provides insight into mental health, communication lessons, exercises on listening, advocacy support, and a chance to connect with other, likeminded families.
Addictions and Mental Health Services
Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT)
The ACTT serves those who have more complex needs in terms of psychiatric care. Open for patients between the ages of 18-65 with long term mental health issues, ACTT provides community-based therapy, psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation services.
Stevenson, Waplak & Associates/Psychotherapy Matters
Stevenson, Waplak & Associates also operates a program in partnership with Psychotherapy Matters, which gives patients access to a psychiatrist online through video call, often in conjunction with their already existing doctors or counsellors. The cost of the “telepsychiatry” is covered under OHIP, with patients paying a monthly subscription for the service.
Stevenson, Waplak & Associates
Funded by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care , Peer Support, with branches in Picton, Trenton and Belleville provides a free service that offers social options, a library of resources, and a chance to meet with others who also struggle with mental illness.
Community Mental Health Services (CMHS).
Northumberland Community Counselling Centre (NCCC)
The CMHS and the NCCC is running a pilot program that provides a walk-in counselling service at the Northumberland Hills Hospital. Both organizations recognized the need to reduce wait lists for treatment and decided to collectively innovate. “We were receiving anywhere from 80-100 referrals a month for counselling,” said Jennifer Cox, Clinical Manager of Northumberland Hills Community Mental Health Services. “Our community needed this service.” Twenty “slots” a day are available twice a week and offer patients free counselling without an appointment or a referral. The long term waitlist of patients seeking counselling has been reduced from six to ten months to just two months. Walk-in spots are open to anyone 16 and older on a first-come, first-served basis.
Telemedicine services and assessments are also available through the Northumberland Hills Hospital and NCCC, allowing psychiatrists to connect with patients remotely.
As of this past March, the Mental Health Engagement and Response Team, (M-HEART), with funding from the Central East Local Health Integration Network initiated a program that allows for a social worker or mental health worker to ride along with local Cobourg Police Service and Northumberland OPP, helping to intervene when police calls are best solved with help from social services. The whole purpose there is to pre-empt someone from having a crisis, The team aims to connect that person in crisis with resources and support within the community. Considering the spread out and rural nature of the county, portable services are vital in our region.
Rounding out NCCC’s innovative services is the Hoarding Support Program, which aims to provide care and support services to those who suffer with hoarding, which has now received its own diagnosis, no longer a subclass of obsessive compulsive disorder. The care is offered oneto- one in the patient’s home, “reducing the acquiring part of the disorder and helping to improve the discarding portion”.