FeatureSports & Health

Supporting women’s mental health

In 1999, when Maria Y was in her 30s, she suffered a stroke and has been working to recover ever since.

As challenging as it has been, she says it is easier than healing from her mental health struggles, which began after her stroke.

In the years since her stroke, Maria worked with a psychiatrist for 15 years before starting treatment at Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH) in 2016. Participating in outpatient group work, working with social worker and art therapist Joanna Cheung, and working with psychiatrist Dr. Amir Barsoum.

“I’ve had many challenges in my life, and have tried other initiatives; they were helpful but did not give me the satisfaction that I think I needed,” Maria says. “I wanted to be able to meet my personal objectives and enrolling in the women’s wellness program at MSH has given me the chance to meet my personal vision for going forward and achieving further goals.”

MSH’s women’s wellness program began in 2019 and offers several types of group therapy including art therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, interpersonal psychotherapy, postpartum depression, cognitive behaviour therapy and antenatal depression cognitive behaviour therapy.

“The care and treatment at the women’s program allows me to evolve like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly,” Maria says.  “I feel safe and supported.”

The program has given her the opportunity to meet other women and to express herself and grow as a person.

“I am more confident now than I was and I feel I have freedom now,” she adds.

Maria found healing through art therapy, which often works well for people who are quiet and shy and may not be comfortable sharing their feelings.

“Art therapy can give the ability to express emotions through painting or sculpture and work through feelings,” Cheung says. “Maria’s art came from feelings she had deep inside her and was able to express for the first time in her life.”

Since the pandemic, the women’s wellness program has shifted to virtual care, and are providing all services online. Being able to continue with her art therapy and having a support system during the pandemic and the lockdowns has made a difference for Maria.

While she still has difficult times and days when she struggles, Maria says her “hope is stronger than her hopelessness. Mental health recovery is an ongoing process. Remember, no matter where you are and what you’re going through, you don’t have to do it alone. Keep working and trying. Maybe one person cannot help you; in that case, try someone else or another form of therapy. There is someone who truly cares about you and me.”

The women’s wellness program is vital to the over 1,200 women who rely on it. The program is generously supported by the community and through the LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart program.

Sign up for the virtual Run for Women from July 4 to 11 in support of women’s mental health at Markham Stouffville Hospital. Make a donation to the run and it will be matched $1 for $1 thanks to the Gulshan & Pyarali G. Nanji Family Foundation (up to $50,000). Visit runforwomen.ca for more details.


Photo: Maria’s art came from feelings she had deep inside her and was able to express for the first time in her life


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