Local man sets example of conquering mental health challenges
When you fall off a bike, you get right back up and ride again. After battling depression, that is exactly what Neil Mitchell did.
At 52 years old Mitchell was a managing director, national commercial and consumer practice leader at Marsh Canada Ltd., a global leader in insurance banking and risk management.
He was a happily married father of three, avid biker, participant in a national cross country charity bike for childhood cancer and two-time Ironman finisher as well as other endurance charity rides. He also had zero desires, the inability to experience feelings, social withdrawal, brain fog, and negative thoughts. He experienced sleepless nights, and lost interest in the things he loved, including cycling.
To the external world, Mitchell was fine. But Mitchell knew something was not right. He was battling depression.
After being off work for 18 months, exploring different treatment options and facilities, Mitchell finally met Dr. Rus Sethna, Chief of Psychiatry at Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH).
He was admitted to MSH in April 2016. Working with the MSH mental health team and with Dr. Sethna leading the way, Mitchell discovered a new found hope for his recovery. Dr. Sethna was confident that with 24/7 support, Mitchell could restore as much of his life back as possible.
“I wanted to be a husband, father, friend, and colleague again —I felt it was too early in my life not to have a chance at those things anymore,” said Mitchell.
Dr. Sethna developed a pharmacological solution that started to make a difference in Mitchell’s condition. But, he made it very clear to Mitchell that he needed to take steps to personally battle this illness—it wasn’t just what the doctors and staff at MSH could do for him.
“So there was tough love – there was incredible compassion, yet there was a firmness when there needed to be firmness—there was belief and encouragement,” said Mitchell.
Dr. Sethna discharged Mitchell five weeks later, after watching him change positively and take steps in the right direction. Mitchell continued to attend the BRIDGE Day Program at MSH, a program designed to help patients learn and understand their illness.
And on June 11, 2016, with encouragement from his eldest son and a few close cycling buddies, Mitchell got right back on his bike.
“I actually thought I would never ride a bike again,” he said. “I couldn’t go very far, but this short ride started my journey back—in terms of having interests and passions.”
With inspiring words from Dr. Sethna, Mitchell returned to work in March 2017.
The mental health staff at Markham Stouffville Hospital, the therapists, and other patients who were focused on their own recovery — were also a large part of Mitchell’s recovery. Combine that with the unconditional love and support from his wife and three children – close friends, relatives, neighbours, his cycling family and his local faith group– he found a community of support.
His mental health journey encouraged Mitchell to organize the Ride for Mental Health – a fundraising initiative to benefit mental health at the very hospital where he received help. From Friday, August 25 to Sunday, August 27, Mitchell and a few of his friends embarked on a 750 km ride from Markham to Kingston, Ottawa, and Montreal.
“I knew if I was given a second chance I’d want to help others in my small way, to show that there is hope, to always ride again, and also to bring awareness to the cause,” said Mitchell. “Our family is grateful that MSH has such a successful mental health program. My passion is to now do my small part in assisting in raising funds and awareness of the mental health needs for our community, and to ensure the Mental Health Program at MSH has sufficient funds to meet the current and growing mental health needs of our community.”
Mitchell is accepting donations until Dec. 1. at support.mshf.on.ca/rideformentalhealth
Contact Joyce So for Ride for Mental Health details, and to learn how to host your own fundraiser to benefit Markham Stouffville Hospital. She can be reached at the hospital at 905-472-7373 ext. 6229.