People behind the stories

Out of Mind Magazine
October 1998

As a psychologist, Theresa, 64, helped countless people cope with mental health problems but never experienced them herself. Until, at age 59, a major depression hit. Her own psychoanalyst dumped her. She just said "can't help you any more, you're too far gone. You're no longer my patient," Theresa says. Theresa's colleagues recognized the symptoms of depression and recommended hospitalization inpatient experience with disdain. "The doctors were very condescending. There was no psychotherapy at all. They didn't believe in that. They only wanted to treat me with drugs."

When she didn't respond to the medication, her doctor prescribed electroconvulsive therapy. "I was scared out of my wits," she says. When she opposed the planned treatment, her doctor declared her incapable of making her own decisions. She contacted a rights adviser and a lawyer and her doctor backed down. After her recovery, Theresa asked why he'd pushed for the shock therapy. "He said 'because it's the simplest and most direct way of getting the person better and getting them out of the hospital and freeing the hospital bed. My goal is to empty the beds." Theresa says the stigma of mental illness cost her several friendships. She now takes St. John's Wort, attends a mood disorders group, and has not relapsed.

Walking the halls of the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital with Wayne Lax is an unsettling experience. Wayne, who was admitted repeatedly to the hospital over the past decades, is remembered by many of the patients. But he no longer remembers them. Wayne's troubles started back in 1967, when his brother died under unusual circumstances. Unable to cope with the death, Lax turned to drinking. But the escape was only partial and the depressant effect of alcohol, combined with the death, led Wayne to hospital. Many, many times. "Everything on the market was prescribed in the last 25 years," Wayne says. "I had 108 admissions to the psych ward, and I lived in a nursing home when I was 44 years old. I was told I'd never live on my own and there were about 10 or 11 overdoses and attempts at suicide, and they'd just pump me out and send me home with more medication.

Part of Wayne's treatment involved electroconvulsive, or shock, therapy. He believes that treatment, combined with heavy medication, cost him dearly: "It's taken my memory." He feels, strongly that what should have been treated, solely, was his alcoholism. And he's bitter that, after several overdoses, prescriptions for powerful medications were still prescribed.

The medication, shock treatment and alcohol abuse contributed to a serious car accident in 1992, Wayne says. But that accident prompted him to take stock of his life. "I realized, 'My God, where have I been?' And it took me a year or 14 months to start feeling better with no medication. Then the alcohol left and I never had any voices and I've never been in the hospital since."