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Suicide, Grief, Mental Illness and Recovery through Art

Mike Simon Shares his Story as part of National Mental Health Week
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We all have to deal with change at different points in our lives.

Some changes are good like meeting your significant other, graduating high school, college, or university or maybe buying your first home. Things are going well and there is a lot of happiness and joy. Others are not so good. Losing a job, getting a divorce, or the death of a loved one for example. Everyone experiences change and we all have to learn to deal with them.

Did you ever wonder how you would handle a major life-changing event?

I never thought much about it until 2016. I seemed to handle all of the ups and downs life threw at me and kept moving forward. I always thought that my superpower was my ability to find solutions to life’s problems. That all changed in 2016. I wasn’t so invincible after all. My son Benjamin died by suicide that year. I didn’t see it coming. I knew that he had special needs and we struggled to get help for him. I am talking about a parade of people that were in Benjamin’s life when I say ‘we’. At the end of the day, I was left incomplete and utter shock and disbelief.

This was uncharted waters for me. There is the death of a loved one, usually someone older. There is the death of a child, a most tragic event in a parent's life and something that people dread to even contemplate. Then there is the death of a child by suicide. It is another level. I was in a tailspin and didn’t know it.

I tried to go back to work. After a few months, I realized that I went back too soon and had to leave again. I sought help and went to the Durham Distress Centre. They were amazing and very understanding. I joined a peer-to-peer group for suicide awareness. It was the best medicine. I still keep in touch with them however the pandemic has made things more difficult for us all. Through their guidance, it was suggested that I seek further help.

I was referred to Lakeridge Health where I participated in an outpatient program. It was the next logical step. I learned that I was suffering from anxiety and depression as a result of my son’s suicide. Before that, I never would have accepted such a diagnosis but through education, at Lakeridge, I learned to accept that I needed help. When I finished the program, they referred me to a day treatment program at Ontario Shores.

The program had elements of peer-to-peer support but it was so much more. There was an education component to it and there was also a focus on taking care of oneself. After my experience, I really believe in this approach and I hope that it has a big future at Ontario Shores. Many of the patients referred to it as a ‘course’ or ‘class’. Of course, it was a form of treatment. I think that changing the mindset is the secret to its success with patients.

Well, I am happy to report that it seemed to work for me. In the beginning, I had doubts. I guess it was more than halfway through the program when one of my friends asked me if I was interested in going to Cuba. I said yes on a whim thinking that he wasn’t serious. His wife started a new job and wasn’t able to go and he didn’t want to go alone. Well, we ended up going and I took a week off from treatment. It was a wonderful trip and I made many new friends there. When I came back to the program I was introduced to art and painting.

At first, I laughed. It took a little convincing but I gave in and decided to try it. I found a picture of the beach that I had visited in Cuba on my cell phone and I attempted to paint it. I enjoyed it and got lost in the experience. I have never stopped painting since that day and I highly recommend it to others.

When my program ended I decided to become a volunteer at Ontario Shores. Before the pandemic, I would help patients to do artwork including painting. I enjoyed the interaction with the patients and seeing the artwork that they produced. The pandemic changed all of that. I still wanted to be involved so I volunteered on several committees at the hospital and share my story to advocate for patients and especially adolescents who need help.

As National Mental Health Week closes out, I want to encourage everyone to talk about mental health and advocate for their friends and family. I have learned mental health is a community that cares for each and I am proud to be a part of it.


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