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Woman finds friends, acceptance at mental health program

Published on

Cathy Dobson 

Marianne Hyatt feels like she’s finally shaking the heavy burden of depression.

But it isn’t a new drug or therapy that is improving her mental health.

It’s a welcoming, accepting place where she goes several times a week for friendship, activity and purpose.

Opening Doors is the name of the program that has changed the 50-year-old woman’s life.

Marianne Hyatt

“You tend to isolate yourself when you have mental illness,” she said. “It’s not always easy to maintain friendships because people who don’t have mental illness have a different lifestyle. You have less in common.”

Hyatt has struggled with depression for much of her adult life. And it was getting worse until she joined Opening Doors.

Shortly after earning an engineering degree, a viral attack left her in chronic pain and unable to work.

“Chronic pain frequently comes with depression,” she said. “I was 20 years old and told I’d have chronic pain for the rest of my life.”

She moved back home with her parents and became their caregiver for many years.

“When my father, then my mother died, I felt quite lost,” she said. “I wondered what my purpose was.”

Luckily, at a chronic pain support group, she noticed a poster for Opening Doors and went to her first Monday night fitness class.

“For the first time in my life I had fun exercising,” Hyatt said. “It gave me something to look forward to every week and was a way of connecting with people.”

Opening Doors was launched five years ago in Sarnia by the West Lambton Community Health Centre on Exmouth Street and offers anyone 16 years and older a chance to be social, learn new skills and become more active if they have mental illness or require mental health support.

There’s a vast need for more programs to help Sarnia-Lambton residents with mental illness, says Rebecca Everaert, Opening Doors’ program facilitator.

It’s estimated 25,239 residents will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and that as many as 18,000 or 70% won’t get the help they need.

That’s one reason the United Way recently approved $30,000 a year to expand Opening Doors to the North Lambton Community Health Centre in Forest, so more people can access it.

The United Way has been a supporter since Opening Doors launched in 2012. About 150 people have participated over the years. Anywhere from five to 20 attend the free cooking classes, art and conversation, life skills, wellness sessions and fitness classes.

Finding acceptance is the most important, said Hyatt.

“There are no questions here.  If you choose to share your story, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too.”

She soon became one of the core group and took on a leadership role at the Opening Doors 100-square-foot vegetable garden.

Rebecca Everaert

“Without Marianne’s attention to the garden it wouldn’t be so huge,” said Everaert.  “We provide food to the Inn of the Good Shepherd, to all our members and use it for our cooking classes.”

Hyatt is one of two volunteers helping to run the programs.

Before joining, her only social interaction was with her family and church.

“Now my confidence is up, my stamina is up and I feel better because the more you sit and don’t do anything, the more aches and pains you have.”

Referrals aren’t necessary and Opening Doors is free.  Bus tickets are provided to participants.

For more information, email reveraert@nlchc or call 519-344-3017, ext. 277.

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