Vancouver General Hospital’s VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is striving to create a better healing environment for Lower Mainland mental health patients while changing the face of mental illness.
Our four-part joint venture, which began March 2, features some of the faces of mental illness and those working to fight its stigma. This week, The Province takes a look at how depression affects youth, and learns about Vancouver resident Joshua Beharry’s battle with mental illness.
Three years ago, feeling utterly hopeless, Joshua Beharry texted his last goodbyes to his brother, then threw himself from Vancouver’s Oak Street Bridge.
Diagnosed with depression in late 2009, he went through months without experiencing any joy, happiness, normalcy, or hope.
“I couldn’t figure out a way to get better, and as the weeks and months piled on, I was no longer able to bear it,” he said.
So on Jan. 17, 2010, he waited for a break in the headlights approaching the bridge and he jumped.
“It was the most painful experience I’ve ever been through,” said Beharry, now 26.
But the moment he hit the icy waters of the Fraser River, he felt a rush of adrenalin, swam to shore and called for help.
“I had this huge rush of emotions … some of which were positive emotions, which I hadn’t even really felt in a long time,” Beharry told The Province. “I could just remember what it even felt like to be normal again.
“There was hope.”
Beharry was treated for some broken ribs and hairline fractures, followed by a couple of months at Vancouver General Hospital’s outpatient clinic, where he underwent cognitive behavioural therapy and found the right antidepressants.
Today, Beharry is a mental health advocate and tries to steer others away from the painful path he went down.
He formed a mental health network at UBC, where he studied computer science, started up a blog, MHPOV.com, where he details his experience and struggles with mental illness. He also got involved with VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation’s campaign, ‘Changing the face of mental illness,’ which is raising money for its new mental health treatment facility, the Joseph & Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre.
Beharry only wishes he sought help earlier.
And according to Vancouver General Hospital’s head of psychiatry, Dr. Soma Ganesan, youth struggling with mental health need to seek help immediately, before they turn to alternatives like substance abuse.
“Alcohol or drugs — that’s what makes the issue more complicated,” said Ganesan, explaining that the added symptoms of withdrawal make treatment more challenging.
Trust also needs to be built with both the patient and family, as oftentimes, neither are willing to admit they’re struggling with mental illness.
“Regardless of how much work we’ve done so far, people are still thinking that mental illness is untreatable,” said Ganesan. “[But]psychiatric illness is a part of a medical illness … the treatment is there.”
“It’s easier to treat anxiety, depression than treating flu because you don’t have any medication for flu, but we now have medication for depression and anxiety.”
And it was this road to acceptance that made it difficult for Beharry to seek the help he so desperately needed.
“I wasn’t telling anybody what was going on,” he said. “I just didn’t want to be associated with mental illness.”
But today, although he may shy away from the subject at times, he looks at it much differently.
“It’s important to know that it’s fine to seek help, and that it’s not something you should be feeling ashamed of or trying to hide from,” he said. “I try not to let [the stigma] sort of stop me from speaking up about something.”
And that’s why he’s now involved with the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation campaign, which will see a better recovery environment built for Lower Mainland mental health patients, due to open in 2017. To donate visit vghfoundation.ca/mentalhealth or call 604-875-4676, or toll free 1-877-875-4676.
By Larissa Cahute, The Province
March 10, 2014
More support is needed, please donate.