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“I had tried everything and I had nothing left to live for, so I gave it a shot. I was so scared when I went, I was crying in the waiting room. Then someone came over to comfort me—another patient—and it created such a bond.”
The good news about treatment for depression is that a large majority of people of all ages respond positively and are able to make a complete recovery. But a significant minority of them don’t get better. They have what is known as treatment-resistant depression. Faith Rockburne is one of these people.
Faith got her name from her parents’ belief that their baby girl was a gift from God.
Her father had earned the right to believe every life was precious. As one of the first Canadian soldiers to land on Juno Beach in Normandy on D-Day, he saw most of the men under his command die and barely survived himself. Her parents had one daughter who died in infancy, and they had long given up on being able to have another before Faith was born.
But for most of her childhood growing up in Toronto, she did not feel blessed.
She believes her father had untreated PTSD for the rest of his life after the war. She also believes her mother had undiagnosed anxiety and depression.
“Mainly all I remember from childhood is fear, anxiety and sadness. I grew up wondering why my parents were so angry and disappointed in me all the time.”
She developed anorexia in high school, weighing as little as 80 pounds during the worst of it. She was never referred for treatment.
In fact, it would be over three decades of trying to live with mental illness before Faith got the help she needed—help that would save her life when it all seemed to be slipping away.
For most of that time, she was self-medicating with alcohol and cannabis. It seemed to keep the demons at bay and allow her to continue a successful career at one of the big banks.
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But shortly after her mother, father and best friend had all died within a two-year period, one day she just fell apart and couldn’t get out of bed. She went on long-term disability. A month later, her employer sent all of her personal belongings from her office.
She never went back to work there again.
Only then, in her fifties, did her journey of recovery begin. It was a rough road.
She tried almost two dozen kinds of antidepressants. None of them worked. As a last resort, she was given electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which despite the serious side effect of permanent memory loss, is still the most effective treatment for treatment-resistant depression.
But not for her. Three in ten Canadians with depression have what is known as treatment-resistant depression. Faith was one of them.
[Coming to CAMH] was the turning point. That was the beginning of my recovery.
So after having tried everything, she stopped trying to stay alive and tried to end her life. Her despair was not just from her inability to get better, but was compounded by the feeling that the mental health system had given up on her.
“That feeling when your doctor tells you ‘That’s all I’ve got. There’s nothing else we can do for you.’ That is the worst feeling I have ever had in my life.”
That might have been the end of her story.
At CAMH following another suicide attempt, she was enrolled in a group therapy program, something she had never tried before.
“I avoided that for years because with my brain so hampered by depression, I didn’t think I could deal with hearing other people talk about their own problems. But I had tried everything and I had nothing left to live for so I gave it a shot. I was so scared when I went, I was crying in the waiting room. Then someone came over to comfort me—another patient—and it created such a bond. I loved that group so much.That was the turning point. That was the beginning of my recovery.”
Another factor that Faith says has helped keep her mental illness at bay over the long term was the introduction of the drug ketamine, which has shown promise in alleviating treatment-resistant depression. She began using it on an experimental basis about a decade ago and continues to take micro-doses on an as-needed basis for depression and anxiety.
Now she is working again, this time as a peer support worker for people with mental illness and as a lived experience educator with CAMH’s TIDES de-escalation training program. She is also living a form of domestic bliss with her husband that she had never imagined was possible in her first 50 years of living.
But as grateful as she is for getting her life back and as proud as she is of her hard-earned recovery, she is also aware how close she came to falling through the cracks.
“I was ashamed of myself for so long and then I thought, ‘No it’s amazing actually that I survived without any support.’ But I shouldn’t have to be proud of myself for surviving the system. Thirty percent of depression is treatment-resistant. That’s a big number. When ECT didn’t work for me, they should have said, ‘Okay, let’s try this.’ There was no plan for me. That’s when the despair set in. When the health care system has no plan for you, it leaves you without hope.”
CAMH has developed a catalogue of research-informed educational materials on the topics of suicide, mental illness and addictions. By knowing the facts, you can help dispel the myths and taboos that lead to shame and silence.