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Supporting a Loved One

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When someone you love has been diagnosed with a mental illness, you feel a mixture of emotions. Concern, compassion, disbelief, anger, relief, anxiety, grief, love, guilt, any and all of these emotions are understandable and normal.

You are not to blame for a loved one’s mental illness. Mental illnesses are caused by many different factors that work together, such as genetics, biology, environment, and life experiences.

Loved ones can play a big part in helping a person recover, work towards their goals, and stay well. Care and emotional support go a long way in recovery and well-being. So can practical help, like managing doctor’s appointments and other daily tasks. You can also play a part in helping a loved one maintain well-being. You and other close supporters may be the first to notice changes in a loved one’s mood, behaviour, self-care, or other area that shows their mental health may be worsening. This means you can help your loved one find the right help early. You can also help them see hope at a time when they feel it the least.

Who is taking care of you?

When a loved one experiences a mental illness, their care and support can take a lot of time and energy. But your own needs are just as important, too. If you aren’t well, it’s harder to help someone else regain wellness. Here are some tips to think about:

1. Accept your own feelings and know that you are not alone

It is natural to feel many different emotions when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness. Other people experience the same challenges and complicated mix of emotions, just like you. Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel.

2. Learn more

Take time to learn more about mental illnesses. This will give you a better understanding of your loved one’s experiences and help you see what they may be going through. You can find reliable information online, through provincial or territorial health services, and through community organizations.

3. Stay connected

Embarrassment, social stigma and fear can stop many family members from seeking help when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness. But that can isolate you at a time when you need the most support from others. Talk to trusted friends and family and let them know what you’re experiencing. If you aren’t sure where to go, try connecting with a community organization.

4. Join a support group

Support groups are a good place to share your experiences, learn from others, and connect with people who understand what you’re going through. To find a local support group, contact a local community mental health organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). CMHA has branches all over Canada that offer a range of services that can help.

5. Take time for yourself

If you are caring for a loved one, your responsibilities may use up your physical and emotional energy. It’s important to take time for yourself. It can help you recharge and give you a more balanced perspective toward any challenges you experience. Schedule opportunities that allow you to relax, have fun and get away so you can come back to your loved one with a healthier outlook. You can’t care for someone else if you haven’t cared for yourself first.

6. Seek help for yourself

Caring for a loved one who’s unwell can be stressful. Long periods of stress can lead to mental health or substance use problems. Seek help if you find your own well-being slipping, and encourage family members to seek help if they need it. Mental illness can also have a big impact on family relationships. It’s a good idea to seek counselling for the entire family.

7. Develop coping strategies for challenging behaviours

There may be times when a loved one shows strange or challenging behaviours that can make you feel confused, embarrassed, or scared. This can happen in public or in private. It’s best to talk with your loved one’s care team for strategies to manage challenging situations. Here are some tips:

  • Learn more about your options.
  • Plan the best strategies for the situation.
  • Understand that this is not personal.
  • Realize that some behaviours may be beyond your loved one’s control. They may be as distressing to them as they are to you.

It’s also important to tell your loved one (and their care team) what behaviours you aren’t willing to tolerate. You have rights, too, you never have to tolerate dangerous or abusive behaviour.

What to do in a crisis

If your loved one experiences serious episodes that cause problems, it’s important to plan ahead for these problems. These plans, written during times of wellness, usually map out what will happen and who will be involved if a loved one starts to feel unwell. You may be included in a plan with your loved one’s care team, but you can make a plan just between you and your loved one, too.

If you believe that a loved one is at risk of harming themselves or others and they won’t seek help, you may get a mental health assessment through your province or territory’s mental health laws. In general, these laws let a doctor, judge, police officer, or justice of the peace order an evaluation if a person meets certain criteria. While this can be a helpful tool in a crisis situation, it can also be difficult and traumatic for everyone involved. Ideally, a loved one should have a plan in place that seeks action before these emergency measures are necessary. Contact your provincial or territorial ministry or department of health to learn more.

A note on privacy

Under Canadian law, an adult’s health care team can’t talk about medical information like a diagnosis or treatment in most situations without permission of the adult. This may seem frustrating at times, but these laws were designed to protect the rights of people who experience a mental illness. An open relationship with a loved one can go a long way in keeping everyone informed and supporting a loved one’s care choices.

Income and housing support

When someone you love is diagnosed with a mental illness, you may worry about their financial future. If they are unemployed or don’t make enough to support themselves, they may qualify for income supports. Some programs are provincial or territorial, and others are national. Talk with a loved one’s care team, provincial or territorial services, or a local organization to see what’s available. Your bank can also help with tools like a Registered Disability Savings Plan.

Mental illnesses can be barriers to good, affordable housing, but the right housing can give people freedom and independence. There are different kinds of housing options available with varying levels of supports. Contact the CMHA or other local mental health organizations to get more information on housing programs.

Do you need more help?

Contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to learn more about support and resources in your area.

Founded in 1918, The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is a national charity that helps maintain and improve mental health for all Canadians. As the nation-wide leader and champion for mental health, CMHA helps people access the community resources they need to build resilience and support recovery from mental illness.

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Sheryl Wedderburn

Courtice, Ontario – Chief Executive Officer/Officer of the Board

Sheryl Wedderburn is the Chief Executive Officer at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Durham. Since her appointment in 2021 she has led the organization through innovative key milestones. The transformation and modernization of housing programs for people with serious mental illness; attaining Accreditation with exemplary standing and raising the profile of the organization within the mental health and addictions sector by co-partnering with lead service providers to support an integrated care model for people living with Schizophrenia. Sheryl has a proven track record in removing barriers between providers and designing client-centred systems while championing the expansion of the traditional catchment areas moving towards equitable access to care. The former CEO and Principal Consultant for Bernard Consultancy, Sheryl has worked dutifully with Chief Executive Officers and Chief Operating Officers, inspiring them to cultivate inventive strategic plans, conducting quality-driven operational reviews and advancing the development, mentorship and successioning of their leadership teams. As a seasoned Governor, Sheryl has served on various Boards since 1986, from hospital sector to community. In addition to her role as Officer of the esteemed CMHA Durham Board of Directors, she serves on the Board of the Alzheimer Society Durham Region, where she advocates for enhanced services to meet the growing diverse needs of people living with Alzheimer and associated dementias. She is the Founding President for JCAN, a registered not-for-profit charity serving the Afro-Caribbean population. A life-long learner, Sheryl holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Health Sciences and Certified Health Executive designation from the Canadian College of Health Leaders. Past cross-appointments include Adjunct Faculty for the Nursing Degree Program at University of Toronto and Ontario Tech University.

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Kerrie Wriker

Colborne, Ontario – Chief Operating Officer/Board Secretary

Kerrie has over 20 years of experience working in the community-based mental health and addictions sector and has held various leadership roles throughout her career. She attained formal education in Recreation and Leadership (Ontario Tech University), Professional Management (York University), and Harm Reduction. She is also a Green Belt in leading process improvement methodology Lean Six Sigma and holds a Change Management Practitioner certification. In her current role as CMHA Durham’s Chief Operating Officer, she effectively fulfills layered reporting obligations to numerous levels of government and ensures all services are integrated, planned, delivered, and evaluated in accordance with professional standards.
As a caregiver to a loved one with a severe mental disorder, Kerrie is a firm believer that connected and caring communities promote wellness. To that end, Kerrie volunteers as a panel member with the Ontario Caregiver Organization, member of an Advisory Board within her township, and is a Board Trustee with CMHA National Pension Plan in addition to her work with CMHA Durham.

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Sarah Moore

Ajax, Ontario – Board Member

Sarah is an accessibility advocate with a passion for cultivating inclusion, standing up to stigma, and breaking down barriers alongside people with visible and invisible disabilities. She is an Accredited Municipal Professional with more than 15 years of local government experience. Her portfolio includes specialties in public administration, accessibility compliance, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as well as volunteer management. Sarah is an Honours graduate of the University of Toronto and obtained a certificate in Accessibility Practices from Toronto Metropolitan University. With both a personal and professional connection to mental health, supporting family members, friends, and colleagues with mood disorders, Sarah is eager to contribute to the promotion and enhancement of positive mental health within the Region as a member of the CMHA Durham Board of Directors. Outside of work, Sarah’s hobbies and interests include film, language studies (French and Spanish), baking, and spoiling Riley, her Shih-Tzu.

Nicole Seymour

Whitby, Ontario – Board Member

Nicole Seymour is currently the Chief Regulatory and Compliance Officer for a global property and casualty insurance organization. She has over 20 years of regulatory compliance experience in the insurance and financial industries and has held Chief Compliance Roles at insurers, mutual fund dealers, and life insurance MGAs. Throughout her career, Nicole has implemented successful compliance and regulatory risk management programs at multiple institutions. Continuously committed to her professional development, she holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Waterloo and has recently completed the Cambridge Business Sustainability Management Certificate and the Certificate in Regulatory Compliance and Legal Risk Management for Financial Institutions from Osgoode Hall. Nicole lives in Whitby with her husband and four children. She enjoys traveling and being a hockey/soccer mom.

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Katie Cosway

Courtice, Ontario – Board Member

Over the past 15 years, Katie has dedicated her career to guiding organizations to build strong cultures that create inclusive and successful business outcomes. After completing her Honours BA at McMaster University and a post-graduate certificate in Human Resources at Durham College, Katie spent 10 years in organizational and career management consulting, delivering services across North America. She later took on a leadership role within the energy sector, where she focused on learning and development to support the growing demands of that industry. A certified Change Management Practitioner and Human Resources Leader (CHRL), Katie also has experience serving on a non-profit board within the financial sector and brings a governance/policy strength that has resulted in increased performance of the teams and projects she’s worked on. Growing up in Durham Region, and currently residing in Courtice with her family, Katie has a deep appreciation for community services such as the ones provided by CMHA Durham.

Jason Langley

Clarington, Ontario – Board Member

Jason is a Senior Strategy & Innovation leader at a large North American financial institution. With a cross border mandate, Jason has built a brand rooted in strategic thought leadership and has a track record of driving multi-dimensional transformation focused on growth and the customer experience. Jason is passionate about coaching and developing future leaders and is a staunch advocate for mental health in both his professional and personal life. He holds both an MBA and Certificate in Responsible Leadership from Queen’s University, a Bachelor of Commerce from Ontario Tech University, and is a Certified Change Management Practitioner. Having grown up in Oshawa, Jason now lives in Clarington with his wife and daughter. In his spare time, he enjoys being outdoors and is an avid fisherman.

Duncan Kerr

Brooklin, Ontario – Board Member

Duncan Kerr is an experienced executive currently serving as the Director of Sustainability and Training with Toronto Hydro. He is responsible for developing and managing short- and long-term sustainability, training, and workforce skills development strategies, as well as directing and managing the organization’s sustainability and training systems, processes, and programs. Duncan also drives change in the pursuit of compliance and continual improvement of environment, social, and governance (ESG).  Prior to Toronto Hydro, Duncan held professional and leadership roles in both health and safety and operations at General Motors in Canada, the United States, and Australia. His impact is supported by a diverse education, including a Bachelor of Kinesiology from McMaster University, a Master of Science in Biomechanics from the University of Guelph, and a Master of Business Administration from Wayne State University.  He is also a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) and an Environmental Professional (EP). Duncan has lived in Brooklin for the last 15 years, with his wife of over 20 years and their two sons.

Elizabeth McSavaney

Pickering, Ontario – Board Member

Elizabeth is currently a Human Resources (HR) Executive for a leading global insurance organization.  Elizabeth has obtained her Canadian Human Resources Leader (CHRL) designation and carries a certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution from the University of Windsor. Over the course of her career, she has led teams in both the private and public sectors across North America.  She has driven complex transformational change projects in corporate and manufacturing environments and has worked in a variety of HR disciplines. In addition to her HR qualifications, Elizabeth has served as a professor at Algonquin College’s School of Business. Beyond work, Elizabeth is a passionate health advocate, with a Bachelor of Science (Honors) in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She keenly understands the value that focused strategies can bring to the health outcomes of individuals, organizations, and the broader community. When Elizabeth is not at work she enjoys CrossFit, running, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

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Earlene Worrall

Blackstock, Ontario – Board Member

Earlene seeks to leverage her knowledge and skills in ways that make a meaningful difference for others, both professionally and personally. With expertise in brand-building, marketing, and strategy, she has spent the last fourteen years working with healthcare clients in a trusted advisor role to help them tackle their toughest strategic challenges. As a Partner with Ipsos Healthcare Advisory, Earlene deeply understands the underlying drivers of behaviour, uncovers the insights that matter, and unfailingly pulls through to actionable strategy – ultimately helping to improve the lived experience of patients, their loved ones, and the healthcare providers who treat them. Earlene is equally committed to contributing to her community. Her volunteer roles over the past two decades have spanned her interests in the environment, the arts, social services, and healthcare. Earlene holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Queen’s University. She and her husband live in Blackstock.

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Melissa Beaucaire

Oshawa, Ontario – Board Member

Melissa has a rich background in the non-profit sector with more than 25 years of experience. Tapping into her formal education in Sociology (BA, University of Ottawa) and Early Childhood Education (Honours Diploma, Algonquin College), she is currently a Manager for Children’s Services in the Durham Region. Melissa has also previously served on the board of non-profit organizations as secretary and treasurer. A lifelong learner, Melissa has prioritized her professional development in the areas of mental health, diversity, special needs, addiction, management, and leadership. She recognizes the importance of the work that CMHA Durham does to provide services for the community and those living with mental health challenges, and she is honoured to support the mission. Besides Melissa’s personal and professional pursuits, family is integral to her life. Melissa and her family are long-time residents of the Durham Region. 

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Jim Hunt

Nestleton, Ontario – Board Member

Jim Hunt is a retired management professional, whose career touched many essential business operations, from manufacturing to customer satisfaction. He is an outside-the-box thinker with a Mathematics degree from the University of Waterloo (whose handbook he co-authored). An effective problem solver, Jim was one of a few people in North America to successfully manage the implementation of operation scheduling software. Jim also served on the boards and advisory committees of several noteworthy organizations, including Sir Sandford Fleming College and the Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario, where he was a board member for nine years. Jim’s investment in accessible and effective mental health care is inspired by the experiences of his loved ones who live with mental disorders. As a resident of Scugog, Jim’s work with CMHA Durham is a testament to his commitment to ensuring care is available to those in his community who need it most.

Dave Wheeler

Whitby, Ontario – Board Chair

Dave Wheeler is a passionate advocate for mental health, and a trusted advisor to CMHA Durham. He has brought his empathetic and effective approach to professional and organizational advancement to roles at several notable companies, including his current position as senior manager of sales and operations at one of Canada’s leading financial institutions. Dave’s expertise is backed by a Master of Business Administration from Queens University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from York University. As CMHA Durham Board Chair, Dave effectively develops strong relationships with stakeholders, while ensuring the appropriate processes are in place to monitor and measure the organization’s performance and efficacy outcomes. Beyond his professional endeavours, Dave enjoys travelling, golf, hockey, baseball, running, and coaching sports.

Preya Singh-Cushnie

Ajax, Ontario – Board Member

Preya Singh-Cushnie is deeply committed to making a positive impact and has accumulated more than 23 years of leadership experience across various financial services organizations, from global giants to mid-sized firms, both internationally and domestically. She currently holds a senior leadership role at the Ontario Medical Association, overseeing the insurance division serving 45,000 physicians in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. In addition to her insurance responsibilities, Preya actively supports the association’s advocacy efforts, contributing to physician and patient care initiatives.

Preya approaches leadership with a focus on empathy, transparency, and a clear sense of purpose. She has a knack for facilitating positive changes by collaborating effectively with internal and external partners, committees, and the OMA Insurance Board to advance the organization’s programs and advocacy work. Preya is also a Licensed Life Insurance Agent and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from York University.

Her dedication extends to promoting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, with a special focus on supporting mental wellness initiatives. This commitment has led her to serve as a Director and Treasurer for CMHA Durham. Before her involvement with CMHA Durham, Preya spent four years as a member and Vice Chair of the Town of Ajax Diversity and Community Engagement Committee.