For more than 25 years, Darren Fancey has been pulled towards the black hole of mental illness.
At times the 46-year-old has managed to avoid it. Other times, he’s fallen through.
“I think everybody knows what depression and anxiety is, but the true depths of where that can lead you is something most people don’t understand,” said Fancey.
“It’s physical. It can be physically a challenge where you feel like you are in a hole. You might lose your appetite, your enjoyment for normal stuff, and it’s a terrible place to be.”
Fancey, a computer technologist in St. John’s who works with the provincial government, contacted The Telegram this week in response to a letter to the editor in Saturday’s paper by Lisa Tucker, who outlined her experience with the mental-health system as a result of her husband’s battle with depression.
In an interview with The Telegram, she expressed frustration about not being able to get the proper care and treatment for Harris, her husband of 18 years.
Tucker said it came to a breaking point about a year ago when Harris said he didn’t want to die, but couldn’t live with the extreme depression anymore. They went to the Health Sciences Centre for help, where Harris was admitted to a locked psychiatric unit.
Eastern Health says secure units are necessary to provide a safe and therapeutic environment to patients.
Tucker said her husband didn’t see a doctor for three days.
The health authority says there is a psychiatry resident, family practitioner and psychiatrist on call during off-hours.
Tucker said a lack of treatment facilities for chronic depression in the province has her fearing her husband will have to try to get help at the Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Ont. — a 312-bed facility offering a range of mental-health programs.
Fancey, who has been episode-free for about two years, said the Tuckers’ story is familiar and one he’s heard before as a member of Better Days, a support group for people with mental health issues.
“Speaking from experience, there is no welcoming place to go if you are seeking help. What is available is facilities for people in crisis mode,” he said.
“Essentially, if and when you seek help, the greatest help out there is walking through the front doors of the Waterford Hospital, and that is not something everyone is prepared to do. It’s a facility that is just antiquated and should be condemned, and one way or the other you are stuck in there, or let out without the help you need, and that’s the two scenarios. And neither one of them is positive,” Fancey said.
Health and Community Services Minister Susan Sullivan told The Telegram Monday the province has hired a program manager to oversee the replacement of the Waterford Hospital and a request for proposals has been sent out.
“When we talk about what it is we’re able to do in order to help out, I think we could say government is stepping up to the plate and we’re doing a fairly good job, from our perspective,” Sullivan said.
“We see so many more patients than we ever used to. We receive about 20,000 referrals to community services in a year. We’ve got about 3,000 admissions and about 10,000 calls to our crisis line annually,” said the minister, adding there are several initiatives in the works to address demand, including new addictions centres.
Being part of the Better Days group, Fancey said he has seen people at different stages of their illness.
He said it is easier to help the people crawling down in the hole and the ones crawling out, but for the ones firmly inside the hole it is more difficult.
“At that point, you don’t even necessarily want help. You have trouble finding anything positive. There’s no enjoyment at that level, there’s very little keeping you together and you are not the person you normally would be,” he said.
“I can speak fairly comfortably and freely about this today, having a lot of it behind me,” said Fancey.
He said it takes a long self-journey and a recognition of what is happening, why, and what the triggers are.
“The recipe for me is medication, peer support, mental exercises, a number of things in my tool kit I use that has come from self-discovery. For the people in the hole, it takes more of an effort to smell the air, listen to music, because at that point you don’t feel a lot,” he said.
“I remember the last time I came out of an episode, the first thing I enjoyed was a cup of tea and it tasted good. At that point it was a step up.”
Fancey said when he started looking for help, he received some but it was short and unsuccessful. By the time he was enrolled in university he had been seeing a psychologist, was misdiagnosed by general practitioners and ended up back in a dark place.
“I can’t say my recovery experience has been any more, really, than the past few years, because before that it was just dead ends. But I’ve truly had help in these recent years that nailed down, ‘Here’s what is wrong with you, here’s what you have to do about it,’” said Fancey .
He credits Better Days for his recent success.
“I was roaming around the system, any number of psychologists, any number of medications, any number of attempts at recovery, but I finally found the recipe for what I need to keep myself together,” he said.
During his last relapse he said he made some mistakes in his treatment that he is now profoundly aware of.
“It’s a journey in knowing what you can do, and people stumble, and I stumbled. This is longest I’ve been without any real episodes, so I’m hoping and praying it’s behind me. Its a daily thing — I’m aware of it every day — but you know when you’re heading down that path, when you are seeing the blackness, and you have to work to say, ‘OK I’m not heading down that path,’” Fancey said.