“I was terrified to walk through that door, because I knew that there was no turning back. I know now that going to CAMH was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
- Earla Dunbar
Eight years ago, Earla Dunbar would never have dreamed that she would be where she is today.
At the age of four, Earla can remember feeling different, and experiencing physical and psychological symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as severe social phobia. When she was 10, her father died, and Earla’s shyness developed into social isolation and depression that would continue well into her adulthood. The stigma of mental illness led Earla to avoid seeking treatment for many years, and she maintained the facade of just being “ok.”
In 1992, Earla was laid off from her job and for six months her condition worsened. Often her anxiety was so overwhelming that she was reduced to tears at the thought of going to the store for groceries, and would lock the door and hide when people came to her home. With the loss of her work routine - the only symbol of stability in her life - Earla knew that she could no longer go on and that if she did not get help, she would die. She chose to live.
Earla saw a doctor who diagnosed her with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, again because of stigma, she did not disclose all her symptoms, and she continued to experience the crippling effects of social phobia. Finally, in 1998, she revealed her true fears and anxiety to her doctor, and she was referred to CAMH.
Two years ago, Earla began seeing CAMH therapist Naomi Mitchell in the Mood and Anxiety Program. Earla credits Naomi, along with Dr. Martin Katzman and others at CAMH, with her successful recovery. Naomi continues to help Earla develop self-confidence and create a healthy balance in her life, which includes the transition of a recent divorce.
As part of her therapy at CAMH, Earla volunteered for three years at a seniors’ home and then in the General Psychiatry Unit at CAMH. The social interaction prompted her to start a support group. Only three members attended the first meeting in High Park. But the group, now called the Social Phobia Support Group of Toronto, now meets regularly at CAMH and is one of the largest of its kind in North America.
Reflecting on her experiences, Earla says, “I now consider the day I first came to CAMH to be the first day of my life.”Transforming Lives Tomorrow
For anyone, let alone a person with clinically significant anxiety, the act of walking into a mental health and addiction facility could be frightening. The new CAMH, to be developed on the Queen Street site, has been designed with considerable input from clients, families, volunteers and professionals. For people like Earla, the door to CAMH will always be open and welcoming, and will lead to a diverse group of compassionate health care professionals addressing the range of people’s needs and promoting recovery using best practices.