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To be that glimmer of hope, we must be at our best

Inspirational Stories
It’s hard to express what COVID-19 has done to the mental health of so many in our community – but we’re committed to be there for them, no matter what.

Let me first say, thank you so much for your support during this unprecedented time. You’ve helped our community through one of the most difficult times in Canadian history. Your kindness has affected so many by enabling our staff the resources needed to best care for them. But as we continue to cope with the everchanging hardships of a global pandemic, you need to know: the need remains.

In my nine years at Victoria Hospital I’ve never seen anything like COVID-19 come to Winnipeg. It’s been a turning point in so many lives – and not for the better. Whether it’s the lack of routine, a loss of employment, social isolation or just the general uncertainty of the future, symptoms of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed this year. And many of the methods and resources we use to treat mental illness have had to be drastically altered or be outright dismantled.

That’s why I’m asking you today if you would consider giving another gift this year to The Vic Foundation. Please help our community through a time of hardship where hope is in short supply.

You see, mental illness is a unique illness. Because you’re not fighting a virus, an infection or disease. You’re fighting a lack of hope. That’s what mental illness does. It impacts your ability to feel hope. It makes you not want to fight to find and feel it.

It’s a devastating illness that over 50% of Canadians will experience before the age of 40 and we know that at least 28% of adult Manitobans live with some form of mental illness, so we have to be there for people in need. We have to be at our best to be that glimmer of hope until they can find it themselves. But we need kind, generous people like you to make that happen.

Please know that a gift from you will go towards our efforts to build new resources that enhance the level of care for those in Mental Health crisis or seeking care. We’ve established a new strategic partnership with Research Manitoba – but that’s only the beginning of what we can do for those in our community that need your support!

I remember one patient and her husband. They were a young couple, just getting their start in life. However, she had severe psychosis that was robbing them of a stable and happy marriage. She was with us for some time as we worked every day to find her the right treatment and medication. I vividly remember one day her husband came to my office. I could see the exhaustion in his face as he stared out the window at the trees outside that were beginning to turn to their autumn colours. He told me about how difficult it was to not see her every day, about how hard it was to be here, but not with the love of his life.

I’m grateful I was there to support him and talk him through such a dark time. And looking back, I’m happy to say our efforts paid off. We found his wife the right treatment and medication. We found her ways to cope with the illness and see hope again. And now they lead a happy life with one another – I’m honoured that The Vic staff and I could be there for them.

At Victoria Hospital, people aren’t just a number they’re people first.

A few weeks later, that woman’s father came to visit me. He shook my hand and said, “Thank you for giving my daughter her life back.” Every time I think of that moment, I feel such an immense honour that I’m in a position where I play a part in helping so many people in need. Which is why I truly, from the bottom of my heart, hope you’ll help us with a gift.

We know how difficult it can be to not only be someone struggling with mental illness, but also love someone fighting the illness. That’s why we want to be there for them, however and whenever. And gifts from selfless people like you enable us to do exactly that.

You have to understand our limitations: we can only help as much as our funding allows us – and COVID-19 has created so many difficulties. This global pandemic has not only increased symptoms of mental illness. It has limited the resources we can make available to those in need.

Normally, we advise “Behavioral Activation” to patients (meaning doing things like going outside for a walk, a hike, or going to the gym), but as you can imagine we can’t advise those things for the foreseeable future. We also had to dismantle Group Therapy sessions, due to social distancing, which was such an important resource to help those in need feel understood.

Thankfully, we’ve still been able to support our patients by increasing our ability to call and check in on them – we don’t leave a phone call without knowing we’ve uplifted their mood at least a little – and even having a team drive up to check on someone to assess their situation if required. In all, we haven’t changed how we treat patients. We’ve just had to adjust how we deliver treatments.

That’s the thing about The Vic. Our staff care so deeply and no matter how many obstacles, they find creative solutions to overcome them. It’s because of the staff and the approach Victoria Hospital takes that I plan to spend the rest of my career here – and why I hope you’ll support us with a second gift this year to enable us to be there for all in our care!

I cannot express to you how lifechanging treatment can be for someone who doesn’t feel joy and hope for the future. Please.Your gift – no matter the size – can be all it takes to give someone in crisis a glimmer of hope. Please be that glimmer of hope for them today.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being there for so many.


Dr. Sherief El-Gaaly
Medical Director and Head
Department of Psychiatry
Victoria Hospital
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority