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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Adult learning at CAMH

Toronto, August 25, 2016 - What happens to people when their school years are interrupted due to illness or injury?

For many, it’s as simple as taking correspondence while they recover. At worst, it may mean going to summer school to complete their credits.

But it’s not easy for people who experience an acute episode of mental illness that cuts their education short. Getting back into the day-to-day routine of school is daunting, and a prolonged absence, coupled with effects from medication or other psychiatric interventions, can result in forgotten learnings and rusty skills.

Upgrading essential skills

One program that seeks to remedy this, the Essential Skills Upgrading course, is getting people back up to speed on school. The course, which helps improve reading, writing and math skills, also teaches workplace and employability skills to clients. And it’s all thanks to a long-standing partnership with TDSB and CAMH’s Social Determinants of Health Service.

TDSB has been operating this program for probably over 20 years now,” said Richard Doerr, a TDSB instructor who delivers this program out of the basement of Unit 4 in the Queen Street site. The course is open to clients who are 19 and older, and while there are no prerequisite courses or grade levels, a fluency in English and a basic grasp of reading and writing is needed to follow along in class.

“The peaceful looks on the faces of everyone here truly makes my day,” said Richard, acknowledging that education in itself can be a fulfilling reward.

The program recently held its first end-of-year celebration, and participants in the program were joined by family, friends and clinicians to applaud the hard work and persistence that clients have put into improving their own skills.


Some people have been out of a classroom setting for some time,” said Jenifer Kim, an Occupational Therapist with the SDH Service. “This course allows them to get acclimated to a school environment, upgrade their skills and prepare for college or the workplace.”

And best of all, there’s no homework.

Personal achievements

While there’s no formal “graduation” from the program, and no certificate or course credit is given, it is an invaluable service that gives clients confidence in their abilities. 

“This course helped me understand who I am, helped me with my mannerisms and speech. It’s helping me adventure… and soar!” said Jesse Thompson, a 25-year-old client in the Complex Mental Illness service. “It can be challenging, and forces me to strengthen weak areas. I’m learning to express myself better. It’s helping me better excel in life.”

Jesse’s mother, Marcia, was ecstatic about the opportunities in store for her son, and is grateful for all that CAMH has done thus far in Jesse’s recovery.


This was a really special day for Jesse,” she said, beaming with pride at the strides her youngest son has taken in his life. “There was a point where I was scared for him… when he didn’t even know my name. He never even knew to call me ‘mom’. And now, Jesse is doing phenomenally well! CAMH literally saved my son’s life.”

As we talked, Marcia brought out her phone and showed photos of a sparsely decorated apartment. Jesse will be moving to community housing in Brampton soon, and like any proud parent, she couldn’t resist the urge to show photos of his new digs. “He has a bed, a pull-out couch and TV, but it needs a more personal touch,” she said. “But no girls! Not yet.” And like any slightly embarrassed son would do, Jesse gives a slight nod and rolls his eyes.

“My goal is to keep learning, get better, get into college or university, get a job and help my family.”

While there is still a long road of recovery ahead, the future is looking bright for Jesse, in part thanks to the work of his clinicians, and the confidence and skills he gained through his participation in the CAMH/TDSB ESU program.

The Essential Skills Upgrading program starts up in September and follows the regular school season. For more information or to enroll clients, please contact Jenifer Kim at the SDH service.

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