One day at a time: Island Health's mental wellness day program

A day can be a lifetime when you have a mental illness. Get up, have a shower, eat your breakfast and get out the door – it’s so easy when you are well.

Every day for 9 months I went to the Mental Wellness Day Program on the top floor of the Eric Martin Pavilion at RJH. And each day I worked with everyday champi­ons to find a balance in my head. I looked forward to seeing Jazz at the front desk, because she smiled and waved like I was a rock star.

My recovery coach, first Danielle and then Heather, was a guide on the path to recovery. But most of all I looked forward to seeing my crew—the people who had been referred to the program as out-patients.

There was a drumming program, yoga and quiet meditation led by passionate volunteers and staff. There was CBT and mindfulness training. Exercise and movement were a perfect complement to the teaching. Somewhere in the back offices was Lauren, a dedi­cated coordinator who matched people and volunteers with all of the classes.

We were all in this together, and every single day that I woke up, had my shower and got to the 6th floor, I felt a little bit better.

The strength of any health care program, or any hospital, is its people. These are people who give you hope and courage, despite how you may feel about yourself. Sometimes a mental illness is a dark mirror—all you see is the sad, bad person you have become.

When I walked through the doors of the Mental Wellness Day Program there were people that showed me myself—even if I was buried under a blanket of self-doubt. Somehow these people— the coaches, the staff, the volun­teers and the doctors—made me look to the future. A future where I was well, where I could embrace myself and by doing that, they gave me hope.

What sort of person creates hope everyday? Hope is not something you touch. You can give it, you can take it, but how do you cre­ate it in an institution? That’s the real power behind the Mental Wellness Day Program. The peo­ple who are there create hope.

To this day, I don’t know how I survived my depression. It was dark and long and treatment-resistant. I do know that I couldn’t have recovered without other people, and especially the people who work and volunteer at the Mental Wellness Day Program at RJH.

To Jazz, and Danielle, and Heather and every other person who gives their time everyday to make people on the 6th floor whole, thank-you.

The Mental Wellness Day Program is provided by Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use Services. Participants must be receiving care from a psychiatrist and be referred by a health professional. Details are available online.

Lisa Ridgway is a patient partner and a lawyer. After UBC Law and 15 years of wearing a suit and heels, she became an advocate for patient-ori­ented research and mental health issues. Lisa co-leads a patient-led research project and collaborates with UVIC, Island Health, the BC Support Unit and PVN. She's on Twitter at @LisaRidgway8.