New book guides Durham families though mental illness maze

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Saturday November 13, 2010

Jillian Follert

DURHAM -- When you're in the midst of a mental heath diagnosis, treatment or crisis, it can feel like you're drowning.

Bonnie Atkinson remembers trying to process what was happening when her daughter began showing symptoms of bipolar disorder during her second year at university.

"It was a very hard time, it was overwhelming," the local woman says.

Durham mental health agencies are hoping the rocky road from diagnosis to recovery will be made smoother with the release of a new guidebook that helps mental health patients and their caregivers navigate local services.

"If there was a book like this when we were going through it, things would have been easier," Ms. Atkinson says. "Mental illness is a reality for many people in Durham; I think this will really help."

For example, she says the section on legal issues would have helped her family understand why they were sometimes excluded from decisions on her daughter's care, while information on hospital care would have better prepared them for what happens when someone arrives at the ER in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Ms. Atkinson was part of a team that helped compile information for Pathway to Recovery, which was unveiled at a special event on Nov. 10. Staff from the Durham branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and Durham Mental Health Services also contributed, as well as local service providers.

A $5,500 grant from the Trillium Foundation helped cover the cost of printing the book, which will now be distributed to social service agencies, hospitals, doctors' offices and other public places.

The 230-page guide is packed with details about local services that support those with mental illness and their caregivers, listing everything from the eating disorders program at Lakeridge Health, to the local branch of the Mood Disorder Association of Ontario.

It also offers comprehensive overviews of various mental illnesses -- including symptoms, warning signs and tips on how to be supportive -- and information on issues such as power of attorney, the Mental Health Act, suicide, medications, types of therapy and workplace accommodation.

Interspersed throughout the pages is artwork created by people involved in Durham's mental health community.

"You often don't know what's available to you until you need it, and by then things are usually very overwhelming," says Krista Bull, who coordinates case management and family services at Durham Mental Health Services. "Most of the agencies in Durham are non-profit so it's hard for them to promote their services. This book has everything in one place."

For more information or to order the book, e-mail or