Rodney Silva was in his mid-20s, a recent business graduate of Ryerson and just starting his career in the financial sector, when he first experienced symptoms of mental illness. They included feelings of paranoia, episodes of psychosis and chaotic thoughts.
As the illness progressed, feelings of desperation sometimes led to aggression. He recalls seeking help at a hospital and later connecting with CAMH for treatment.
Now 52, Rodney is a patient with CAMH’s Complex Mental Illness (CMI) service. His recovery journey has taken many paths at CAMH over the past several years. But a treatment approach drawing on the combined expertise of diverse CAMH clinicians -- and some very personal help from a CAMH Peer Support Worker – are revealing inner strengths and talents, and making him feel optimistic about his future.
“A two-way street:” Peer Support Worker Debora McDonagh and CAMH client Rodney Silva
Lately, Rodney has been leveraging his talents as a musician more often. He’s participating in events such as CAMH’s Suits Me Fine fashion show, enjoying books and attending groups on the topics of mindfulness and spirituality.
Rodney had to overcome a big hurdle last year when an increasing risk of aggression required care in CAMH’s Secure Observation and Treatment Unit (SOTU).
“While Rodney was in our program we learned he had previously developed a great rapport with a CAMH Peer Support Worker, Debora McDonagh,” says Advanced Practice Nurse Remar Mangaoil. Peer Support Workers such as Debora bring lived experience with mental health and addictions issues, and treatment, to their roles in caring for CAMH clients, he notes.
“We contacted Debora and asked if she could be part of Rodney’s current care,” Remar says. Debora started to visit Rodney regularly. In the meantime, “we continued some temporary safety initiatives such as continuous observation and a protocol for safely entering client seclusion rooms,” says Remar. “Some of these practices were required for the initial phase of Rodney’s treatment here -- to ensure his own safety as well as the safety of staff and other clients.”
With the combination of inter-professional care and Debora’s peer support, the aggressive incidents ceased. As Rodney began to feel better, he was able to get day passes to the community, and overnight passes to see his family. “I truly believe that Rodney’s progress would not have been possible without Debora helping our team,” says Remar.
“My spirits were lifted”
Rodney seconds that emotion: “When Debora showed up, my spirits were lifted,” he says. “She gave me a reason to hope, in a concrete and proactive way. She has empathy and a deep desire to do the objective best for all of the clients she works with. She is the single most important entity on my road to recovery.”
It’s a two-way street, says Debora. “I approach Rodney as a complete equal and try to help him see his strengths. We work together to bring those strengths out, to understand what may stand in the way of his recovery, and to find out what can empower him to regain a sense of control over his life. I’ve never seen a client so devoted to learning and growing as Rodney. He’s up for anything you put in front of him.”
To ensure a smooth transition between SOTU and Rodney’s new CAMH care group in CMI’s Tower 2, the SOTU team’s psychiatrist, nurse, recreation therapist and social worker visited the new team to discuss Rodney’s care plan, scheduled activities and other factors.
Rodney says he takes the advice of his brother to keep busy during treatment. “I enjoy music, I try to play the guitar every day, and have the other clients and nurses sing with me.” Debora notes that “Rockin’ Rodney’s Sing-a-long” has been a popular event in the program.
Tower of Power – Rodney teamed up with Occupational Therapist Matt Tsuda to lead a sing-along at CAMH’s CMI Tower Two client barbeque, which ran weekly during the summer.
Rodney also participates in the annual CAMH Suits Me Fine Fashion show. After being one of the sharp-dressed people on stage, “my favourite part is the meal afterwards,” he jokes. “Actually I enjoy relating to people and being expressive.” Rodney is active in CAMH’s skills-based Encore program.
Rodney on the fashion runway at Suits Me Fine.
Every Friday, Debora and Rodney visit Frankie’s restaurant on Queen Street West for a nice meal and change of pace. “The waitress-owner there, Philomena, is the kindest, sweetest lady,” Rodney says – “except for Debora of course.” Both of Rodney’s brothers and his sister visit him regularly at CAMH.
A full-circle approach to care
Other key components of a full-circle approach to treat Rodney’s schizophrenia include mindfulness and medical treatment.
With some challenges related to short-term memory, he re-reads a favorite mindfulness book each week. “I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control how I react to it and how I deal with it,” he says. “I can be more aware of my perceptions and responses.”
Rodney also thanks his CAMH psychiatrists Dr. Shi-Kai Liu and Dr. Faizal Ali for assessing and maintaining medications and other therapies such as ECT that help him feel stable and continue to make progress.
The road ahead
“Today I no longer feel the anger or rage that I had previously,” Rodney says. “That’s not me anymore. I have better awareness of my thoughts and how I can react to them. The prognosis is very good for me.”
Debora says there may be an opportunity for Rodney to transition to the community and to receive outpatient services from CAMH and/or other services later this year.
With a renewed sense of hope and optimism about his mental health journey, Rodney says he would like to pay it forward to other clients as a Peer Support Worker, like Debora.
“CAMH has been very good to me -- I am trying to help others.”