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For Nadine Griffiths, Women’s College Hospital is the place that helped her find what she’d been searching for her whole life: the ability to believe in herself. A patient of WCH’s Women’s Mental Health Program, a global leader in treating and researching the unique mental health challenges faced by women, Nadine says that the caring and support she receives at the hospital have profoundly changed her life and outlook.
“Since I started coming here, I feel like I can breathe,” she says. “I felt so lost until I got here. Now I know I’m not alone, and I’m not afraid to talk about what happened to me. I’ve learned to just believe in myself. I have learned value – my value.”
Nadine’s journey to better health began last year, when her world came crashing down around her. A 48-year-old mom of two daughters, she was in the middle of an average work day when she suddenly began crying and shaking uncontrollably. Initially thinking the pressure of her job was taking a toll on her, Nadine quickly realized what was happening: her past had caught up with her.
While growing up in Jamaica, Nadine suffered repeated sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her aunt and her aunt's husband, her primary caregivers. To escape the horror she faced, she would often run away to her grandmother’s house. There, she says, her aunt would always find her – and bring her straight back home.
“My aunt would come and get me,” says Nadine. “Her husband would molest me and then my aunt would beat me at night if I didn’t clean the house.”
At age 21, Nadine escaped her abusers for good by moving to Canada with her four-year-old daughter. A loving, outgoing person, Nadine couldn’t understand why she felt so sad after settling into her new life. For years, she struggled to find the motivation to go out with friends, explore Toronto or simply enjoy life. Most of the time, she wished she could just stay in bed.
Worst of all, Nadine felt that she had no one to turn to – no one who understood what was happening to her. She says that in her culture, mental illness is highly stigmatized and rarely discussed – a big reason why she didn’t seek help until her depression almost killed her.
After her panic attack that day at work, Nadine says her feelings of loneliness, alienation and hopelessness grew much worse. “I sat at home and started drinking, feeling sorry for myself,” she says. “I asked God, ‘Can you just kill me so I won’t suffer like this?’ I was ashamed to tell anyone I was suffering. It was terrible.”
One day, when she was at her lowest point, Nadine found the courage to talk to a friend who had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He encouraged her to talk to her doctor. She did, and her journey to healing began.
Nadine’s family doctor referred her to Women’s College Hospital, where she began bi-weekly sessions with psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Hensel. In addition to their regular meetings, Dr. Hensel felt Nadine would benefit from WCH’s group therapy program and helped her enroll.
With its women-focused care and welcoming, patient-centred environment, WCH proved to be the perfect fit for Nadine. Her past trauma makes her uncomfortable receiving care from men, and the community-based mental health programs she was initially referred to weren’t able to provide the depth of relationship-based support she truly needed.
Removing barriers to help women access better mental healthcare is a key focus of WCH’s Women’s Mental Health Program. As Canada’s largest mental health clinical and research program focused specifically on women, it includes general psychiatry, group therapy programs, virtual online support and much more to help women and their families receive the world-class support they need to live healthier, stronger lives.
“This place here, I can come here and it helps me feel normal again,” says Nadine. “Dr. Hensel is a really amazing doctor. She doesn’t just leave me to figure things out on my own; we work things out together and she helps me understand things about myself that I didn’t see before.”
Nadine wants the world to know that help is out there for others who are suffering – that the mental health services offered by Women’s College Hospital and other organizations are changing lives.
“I just want to reach out to people and say if I can do it, you can do it. Don’t be afraid. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re in a country where you have so much help available to you. Women’s College Hospital is here to help and that’s what’s given me hope.”
For more information about WCH’s mental health programs, please click here
. If you are interested in becoming a patient, please speak to your doctor to learn more and get a referral.