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Mental Health Series Article 2 - "There's My Heart": A Lifetime of Mental Illness

Mildred Maurer, left, adds up the score of a game with registered nurse, Donna Popowich, in the Seniors' Psychiatry Day Program run at St. Joseph's Care Group - Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital
"There's My Heart": A Lifetime of Mental Illness

Date: 2010-09-21

This is the second of four articles in a series about people living with mental health and/or addiction challenges in our community

Many stories that so eloquently speak of hope have their beginnings in turmoil and fear. So it is with Mildred Maurer's story...

"...So my poor stubborn faith,
clinging to hope like a bad habit
or a comfortable coat..." Mildred Maurer

Since childhood, Mildred has found solace in writing poetry. She was aware of her extreme mood swings - she simply couldn't stop them. They were serious enough that at times she wasn't able to attend school, but she managed to persevere and eventually became a registered nurse.

The periods of extreme excitement and depression continued until her early 40's. She was hospitalized, lost time from work, and was diagnosed as having a manic depressive disorder (bipolar illness). For Mildred the diagnosis was a blessing, finally bringing relief and help. She was prescribed a drug to control her moods, which allowed her to return to work as a nurse for over twenty years.

With age came other health problems. The medication had negatively affected her organs and was discontinued, leaving her with periods of manic excitement and severe depression. In the depths of despair, she made multiple suicide attempts and was hospitalized.

Once again, a seemingly hopeless situation turned around with another medication that levelled her moods. Mildred began to see a psychiatrist who felt she would benefit from regular social interaction. She was referred to the Seniors' Psychiatry Day Program at St. Joseph's Care Group - Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital (SJCG - LPH), to encourage socialization, recreation, and where medication was monitored.

Initially terrified, Mildred reluctantly agreed to go. "I thought I was so different from everybody else," she says. "I didn't realize I wouldn't be the only one with a mood disorder." That was ten years ago.

Now 83, Mildred still enjoys the activities and friends in the Seniors' Psychiatry Day Program. "People are afraid that others will look down on them because of their mental illness. They are afraid of stigma," she explains. "There are many ways that they can be helped and their lives enhanced, and it takes a place like this, where the options are looked at by caring people, to open new areas of possibility."

These days she reads and re-reads her poems, with peace and a deep content. "There they are," she says fondly, reviewing them. "There's my heart."

Dr. Patricia Lepage, Geriatric Psychiatrist, St. Joseph's Care Group, puts it very concisely. "Nothing trumps care, concern and common sense," she states. "Common sense is pivotal in identifying and contending with mental illness."

To reach St. Joseph's Care Group - Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital call 807.343.4300.

Persons with mental illness can make significant contributions to society. Next week, we'll hear of two such persons.

By Jessica Cordes
Jessica Cordes is the Public Education Co-ordinator for St. Joseph's Care Group.

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