Coast Mental Health

by Darrell Burnham, CEO Coast Mental Health

Darrell BurnhamCoast Mental Health staff see hope and triumph every day.

Coast Mental Health started the CTCB Awards seventeen years ago. We saw this event as means to highlight the triumph and perseverance of the human spirit.

Through the Courage Awards, we meet six remarkable people who demonstrate these characteristics. Each recipient is a beacon of hope, a fearless hero, a shining example of possibility.

To us it is a wonderful parallel to the recovery we see in people with mental illness.

No matter how bleak things may be, not matter what hardship or misfortune you face, through the right supports and inspiration we all have an ability to rise up and find a brighter future. It shows that there is resilience in each of us that allows us to pick ourselves up, to dust ourselves off, and to overcome.

Over the years we have had many hundreds of nominees, each with their own extraordinary story. Every story has a common thread – great adversity, a life filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, heartbreak, suffering, and despair.

For me, I learn just how challenging life can be and I see how fortunate most of us are to have our safety, comfort and health. In fact, when I read the challenges Courage nominees have faced, my trivial problems pale in comparison to these remarkable individuals.

And yet out of these stories of heartbreak and despair, somehow, each person finds the internal strength to persevere, to rise up and to ultimately spread their wings and soar. They find the courage to not just continue on, but to engage and inspire others and in so doing they are giving back to their communities.

If you speak to the frontline staff at Coast Mental Health, they can relate. Every day they work with people with mental illness: people who have endured significant hardship and have faced unimaginable odds in their battle with these sometimes-crippling diseases.

Mental illness is a thief, it robs you of your identity, it takes away your livelihood and it isolates you from your friends and family. It leaves you a shadow of yourself… alone and hopeless. And if diseases like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are not bad enough, add to that stigma and discrimination, and a society that simply does not understand.

Yet Coast Mental Health staff see hope and triumph every day. Through counseling, intervention and care we see recovery. From our meal programs, clothing and supported housing we see restored dignity. And from life-skills training, education and employment programs we see a reduction of poverty.

We know that people can and do recover from mental illness and that they indeed can overcome.

We know that mental illness is simply another adversity and, with support, it too can be courageously beaten.

We are fortunate that the Courage To Come Back Awards give us a vehicle to deliver our message, to share our mission and to help us bring communities together.

And of course, most importantly, the annual Courage Awards introduce us to 6 remarkable recipients. People who deserve to be honoured and whose stories are so powerful they simply must be shared. Their stories overwhelm us with emotion, fill us with awe, and give us hope that within each of us exists that fearless hero.

To nominate someone who inspires you, visit couragetocomeback.ca.

“True heroism is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” ~Arthur Ashe

 

Courage To Come Back Mental Health Award

by Sandra Yuen MacKay, 2013 Courage To Come Back Award Recipient

sandra yuen mackayHow the Courage To Come Back Mental Health Award Award changed my life

Hello my name is Sandra Yuen MacKay. I received the Courage To Come Back award in 2012 in the mental health category. I struggled with mental illness for many years. Tormented by hallucinations and delusions and dealing with side effects of medications, I felt my life was over at many times. But I dug my way out and became an artist, writer and public speaker on recovery. I published a memoir My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness to build awareness and reduce stigma.

A colleague who was also a friend thought I was worthy of this award and nominated me. That in itself was an honour.

One morning, the phone rang, I picked up the phone, and it was Mr. Lorne Segal telling me I had been chosen for this award. I was thrilled. When I received the award and stood in front of over 1000 people at the gala, my life was definitely transformed on personal level and in the way others perceived me.

I met the other recipients and during that short time, we shared a bond knowing the trials we’d been through and the joy we felt upon receiving our awards together. To be part of that experience at the gala, where people opened their hearts and gave toward the Coast Mental Health Foundation to help people in our community was profound. Generosity and humanity flowed in that room.

Since the award, I was named as one of five Faces of Mental Illness in 2012, a national campaign which included advocating to Members of Parliament and visiting the Governor General and his spouse in Ottawa.

The next fall, I spoke at a special event in Nanaimo, I was featured in a bus ad in Terrace, BC and I received a signed photo from the Minister of Defense praising me on my advocacy work. MP Don Davies called me from Ottawa to say how insightful my memoir was and encouraged me to write more. In 2013, I received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for contributions to the community.

All these things came on the heels of receiving the Courage To Come Back Award. The award played a large part in subsequent events and successes in my life.

There are others I know that deserve this award. People that have walked through fire and emerged ready to aid and inspire others, to give them the courage to move forward. Your child, sibling, relative, friend or colleague could be the next Courage To Come Back recipient.

So, if you know someone who you think is worthy of this award, I urge you to nominate him or her. And that person may one day stand and be acknowledged for their perseverance and dedication to giving back to others.

To nominate someone who inspires you, visit couragetocomeback.ca.

 

I’m grateful just to be alive . . . Courage Recipient

by Mark Ash, 2010 Courage To Come Back Award Recipient

mark ash courage recipient

Courage Recipient Mark Ash

I’m very happy to be here and to share my story with you.   Actually, I’m happy to be anywhere and able to do things that “normal people” do.

I’m happy that I can use my hands again and for being able to speak.

I’m grateful just to be alive, for this is my second life.

The old Mark, well he didn’t make it. In December of 2001, I suffered a brain injury due to a car accident. When I woke up in the hospital I was paralyzed.

Every brain injury is different, and in my case, my mind and my memory were unaffected. But most of my muscles weren’t receiving proper signals, especially my fine motor skills. I couldn’t speak, could barely walk or use my hands and had trouble swallowing. Everyone thought it was all over for me. At the time I would have preferred death. You know, when you really start thinking about death, that’s when you learn to appreciate life.

In the two years that followed I struggled with insomnia and severe depression. I saw many doctors and often I was over-medicated. When I did go out, it was with a special group. One of the worst things I encountered was that people automatically assumed that because I couldn’t speak, I was mentally challenged. It was frustrating and demoralizing. Many times I felt like giving up, I didn’t want to continue this miserable existence.

I kept waiting for my body to fix itself. You know like when you have a cold or a broken bone, eventually your body will heal itself. But it doesn’t work like that with a brain injury. I was told by my doctors that most of the healing occurs within the first year of an injury — after that the brain gives up.

I had to accept the reality that no doctors or therapists could fix me. If I were to get better, I had to take my recovery into my own hands. So I began to learn how the human body works, and what I need to do to help it heal. I designed a program for myself. My whole life became a “boot camp.”

I had to motivate myself every day and although I was very working very hard, for a long time there was very little improvement. Many times I became discouraged, but instead of giving my self reasons why I couldn’t, I gave myself reasons why I could, and slowly I began to see results. On my journey I learned not to wait for something big to occur. Start at where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater.

I was nominated for a Courage To Come Back Award by my good friend Carmen from Pathways Clubhouse. I was thrilled to be nominated. I didn’t think I’d win.

When Mr. Lorne Segal contacted me to let me know that I was chosen in Physical Rehabilitation category, I was deeply touched. For the next month I did interviews with NEWS1130, the Province newspaper and on Global BC, this was very exiting! I particularly enjoyed my interview with Deborra Hope.

The Award Gala was an absolutely wonderful and uplifting experience. It was an honour to share the stage with all the other recipients. Since then, CBC television did a segment on me and the CMHA Pathways Clubhouse on “Building Pathways for Hope.”

Today I volunteer at the Vancouver Adaptive Music Society studio at GF Strong, where I have many new clients. At the Headway Center for Brain injury and Pathways Clubhouse (where I’m a member), I facilitate “Wellness Through Music” programs. I’m can’t call myself a music therapist because I don’t have a license, so I became a musicologist. I also volunteer with a stroke support group at Douglas Park Community Center, where I have the pleasure of sharing my experiences and knowledge with others, and I volunteer at the Richmond Food Bank.

You know, at first I had to do a lot of cardio at the gym, I needed to force-feed my brain with oxygen, but now I find that “There is no exercise better for the heart then reaching down and lifting people up.”

I want others to look at me and say, “If he could do it, I can do it.” I want my life to be a message.

It’s been said that, “Time heals all wounds.” Obviously the guy that said that didn’t have my wounds. Nevertheless, today I stand before you a new and improved man. I have a new meaningful life filled with happiness. I get to help others and I’m surrounded by people who show me lots of love.

I am eternally grateful to the Coast Foundation through whom I found the inspiration and motivation to come back further than I ever dreamed I could and I’m not done yet.

If your dream happens to fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick up one of those pieces and begin again.

Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.

Visit Mark’s website >

To nominate someone who inspires you, visit couragetocomeback.ca.