Equilibrium tips the scales against stigma

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Friday November 5, 2010


As society attempts to break down the stigma attached to mental illness, talking about that illness, such as depression or a bipolar disorder, has been a sensitive topic reserved for certain circles.

Once a month for the past 20 years, Equilibrium has been one of those circles.

And while the peer support group may be attempting to break the stigman, it has  not forsaken its mandate, to offer an inner circle.

Equilibrium is a local peer support group run by and for people dealing with depression or a mood disorder, and their families.

“Everyone who attends has a story to tell,” said Ron Dallimore who organizes the monthly meetings for some 180 people who attend meetings sporadically.

There can be from 20 to 60 people at any given meeting and participants ages range from 20 to 70 and older.

There’s no cost, registration or reservation required to attend the meetings, which are held on the second Tuesday of every month (except during July and August) at 7:30 p.m. ( doors open at 7 p.m. ) at Evangel Pentecostal Church, 1450 Rebecca Street (across from Hopedale Mall).

Sharing experiences and information are powerful tonics in dealing with such stigmatized illnesses.

“We use the word ‘I’ all of the time and avoid the word ‘should’,” said Dallimore.

Understanding, empathy, advice and education are the cornerstones of Equilibrium.

For the formal part of the meetings Dallimore seeks out guest speakers and informational videos that provide insights into treatments and therapies. For the remainder of the night the gathering divides into three groups: those with depression, mood disorders and family so that each group can talk, share and compare on similar topics.

Over the years volunteer leaders like Dallimore have accumulated an extensive lending library of books, articles and videos to arm members with more information.

Twenty-one years ago, Janet Chyc and her husband Hank searched desperately for a group like Equilibrium.

Hank was a newly-retired 55-year-old civil engineer when he spiralled into a deep depression that put him in hospital for three months.

Seeing the stress, anger and frustration it caused Janet, Hank’s psychiatrist Dr. Karl O’Sullivan put her in touch with Violet Preston, a nurse whose husband had bipolar disorder.

“There was nothing in Oakville as far as support,” said Janet.

By October 1991 Equilibrium was up and running. At that first meeting seven other people had shown up, as well as Dr. O’Sullivan.

“With more information I felt like I was better able to help Hank,” said Janet. Hank was a little more reluctant to attend the meetings but when he met others who were battling their depression, Equilibrium became an important outlet where he could feel normal about his illness.

“It takes away the isolation,” Janet added.

Their daughter Susan Wood often attended meetings too, learning more about depression and recording speakers’ presentations for Equilibrium’s library.

Janet is relieved that Equilibrium is still running after two decades because “it does help everybody in the family.” Many referrals come from psychiatrists, counsellors, the Canadian Mental Health Association and Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

Beyond organizing a support group — something she’s never ever done before — Janet has advised psychiatry students teaching them the importance of recognizing family perspectives.

“It’s a win-win situation that helps the
doctor, patient and family heal faster,” she added.

Hank is better now and for his pioneering work, he earned the Courage to Come Back Award in February 2003 from the CAMH for overcoming his mental health challenges and using the experience to help others do the same.

For Equilibrium’s meeting schedule and the upcoming list of topics log on to its website: http://equilibrium-oakville.com.