Joseph Brant Hospital’s Innovative Approach to Transforming Mental Health and Addictions Care


Let’s Build Better Mental Health Care | Joseph Brant Hospital © Alex Green/Pexels

According to the World Health Organization, one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point. Even so, the stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction remains.

As we approach Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct 1-7), it is more important than ever to recognize the strength that comes from seeking help for mental health issues. When we educate ourselves on how best to care for our mental health, we can better support the ones we love through trying times.

Joseph Brant Hospital (JBH) is a leader in mental health care, and has many stories of patients grateful for the care they have received. Patients like Ryan, Bailey, and Abbey.

joseph brant hospital
Ryan © Courtesy of Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation

The Relief of Diagnosis

Ryan came to JBH after struggling for many years with his mental health and addictions. Seven years ago, he had a prescription pill and alcohol overdose that nearly cost him his life.

He spent three weeks in an induced coma and subsequently spent some time in the Mental Health Inpatient Unit at JBH. With little self-esteem and no confidence or excitement for life, Ryan felt like he was at the end of his rope. He recalls feeling relieved when he received his diagnosis—it was a validation that things can and will improve. Looking back, he remembers feeling like the support he received from JBH helped him set up a roadmap for his life, helping him navigate what he needed to do to get better and working his treatment and recovery goals into his plans.

Upon being discharged from the inpatient unit, JBH connected Ryan with services and support from other community agencies, as well as the outpatient mental health unit at the hospital, to continue to support his healing and treatment.

"I was sad to go but very grateful that they helped save my life," Ryan said. "To each and every one of you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without your generosity and willingness to give, I would not be sitting here today."

Strength in Shared Stories

For Bailey, her mental health journey began while she was a student at Wilfrid Laurier University. The normally happy and outgoing young woman often spent all her time alone in her dorm room with feelings of depression and negative thoughts.

“I couldn’t get out of bed,” she remembered. “And then I came home during spring break, and it was the first time I’d felt happy in years.”

Unbeknownst to Bailey and her family, it was the start of a bipolar episode that included hallucinations and would last for weeks.

Her family contacted JBH, and through the Phoenix Program, Bailey received the help and medication she needed.

Bailey © Courtesy of Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation

The Phoenix Early Intervention in Psychosis Program is an outpatient, recovery-focused program that takes a team approach to help people aged 14 to 35. Bailey’s team included a psychiatrist, a therapist, and an occupational therapist, who worked with her to provide the right combination of medication, therapy, and support to build her confidence. She took part in this program for three years and still has regular check-ins.

For Bailey, her experience was a sign that manic psychosis is not a common subject; she saw value in sharing her story and spreading the word that it is okay to ask for help and it’s okay to talk about your mental illness, even though it is frightening.

“The more people talk about mental illness, the less stigma will surround it,” she said. “So I wrote a book about my journey—starting from the feelings of depression right through the manic episodes.”

Her book, Well, That Was Strange, even contains her journal entries from her psychotic episodes as it was happening, and the feedback she has received has been overwhelming.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be as popular as it is. The day I published it I posted on Instagram and there were so many comments and feedback,” she said. “A lot of people have read it, and I’ve been asked if I was nervous to share what I went through…I always respond with no, the whole point is to help somebody else.”

Abbey © Courtesy of Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation

Finding Light in the Darkness

“I don’t feel happy anymore.”

It was last July, after months of suffering in silence, that Abbey approached her mom and told her how she was feeling.

“I just felt numb,” she said. “There is really no way to describe the way I was feeling.”

The last few years have been hard on everyone, especially kids. Studies by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health have shown that in the last year, 39 per cent of Ontario high-school students have indicated a moderate-to-serious level of psychological distress (symptoms of anxiety and depression), while 17 per cent indicate a serious level of psychological distress.

The impact on children and adolescents has been particularly hard during the pandemic. As a result, the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric (CAP) Clinic at JBH has seen referrals increase exponentially over the past few years. Loss of control, feelings of uncertainty, and changes to routine contribute to symptoms of anxiety, low mood, adjustment disorders, eating disorders, and parent-child relational problems.

It was a feeling of loneliness and isolation that brought Abbey to the CAP Clinic.

“I remember feeling so alone. Both of my parents are essential workers and weren’t home,” she said. “I’m a very social person and I rely on others to make me happy and I was spending a lot of time in my room alone and crying.”

Abbey began with a psychiatrist but found a connection with Gwen, a social worker in the CAP Clinic. She remembers that Gwen made her feel like she had someone she could talk to that understood.

“A lot what helped was her validating the way that I felt,” Abbey said. “It felt so good to know that I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling and I wasn’t going to get in trouble for feeling this way.”

During her final year of high school, Abbey and Gwen continued to meet regularly. After graduating in June, Abbey is studying Early Childhood Studies and Early Childhood Education at the University of Guelph-Humber.

For Abbey, the support of the CAP clinic has helped a great deal and made her more resilient. “All I can say is thank you,” she said. “Without the program, I don’t know where I would be. I’m sure you’re helping a lot of people, not just me.”

The Future of Care

As the need for Mental Health and Addictions (MHA) services grows, JBH is poised to make a substantial impact. Their experience in addressing the pressing challenges communities face, combined with strong community connections and expert leadership, positions them as innovators in the field.

JBH’s mental health and addiction care initiatives signify their commitment to transforming lives and communities. Looking toward the future of care, JBH is seeking investment from the provincial government and the community for a redevelopment and expansion of the MHA Unit, including a new Child and Youth Mental Health Day Hospital and an expansion of community-based services. The vision is to build a modern, therapeutic environment purposefully designed to instil hope and support healing that is needed to keep pace with our pursuit of service delivery, excellence and innovation.

Together, our collective support plays a pivotal role in shaping a brighter future for individuals struggling with mental health and addictions.

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Many of life’s most important moments take place right here at Joseph Brant Hospital. Through times of care and times of crisis, these are the moments that join us together. And now, more than ever, your support matters.


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