Integrated mood and anxiety program: Homewood Health Centre uses holistic approach for depression and anxiety disorders

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Depression and anxiety disorders affect every aspect of a person’s life – work, leisure time, outlook on life and the future, and relationships with family and friends. Using a one-dimensional approach to treating these disorders can often reduce the symptoms, but it may not provide an effective long-term solution.

Homewood Health Centre’s Integrated Mood and Anxiety Program (IMAP), formerly known as The Core Program, uses a holistic approach that encompasses the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of the person. The health centre is a leader in mental health and addiction treatment, providing specialized psychiatric services to all Canadians. Located in Guelph, Ontario, Homewood has been improving lives since 1883. Unique in Canadian healthcare, Homewood is a highly specialized provincial and national resource. A fully accredited facility, Homewood has always achieved the highest standards in quality care. It is a recipient of the prestigious National Quality Award.

“On an out-patient basis, many doctors may focus primarily on the biological aspect, using medications as their first defence against depression and anxiety disorders. They often just don’t have time to do more,” explains Alison Abdool, Program Co-ordinator. “Many factors contribute to a person having depression or anxiety. Our program delves deeper, helping individuals identify the patterns of behaviour that are at the core of their problem. These patterns may have a negative influence on how they approach relationships and situations, locking them into a self-perpetuating cycle and helping to fuel their depression and anxiety.”

Patients can benefit from an in-patient program, she says, because it allows them to put aside the busyness of their lives both at home and work. They take time to focus on themselves, the obstacles they face and to develop the skills and strategies needed to bring about change. Because staff see patients every day over an eight-week period, they may be able to more accurately diagnose the problem. Problems that might have gone previously undetected are identified and addressed.

Often, people suffering from depression or anxiety disorders say: “I just don’t know who I am anymore.” They have lost a sense of who they are, their place in the world and where they are going. IMAP focuses on their spiritual side, helping them regain a stronger sense of self and a renewed sense of purpose.

Patients also have an opportunity to delve into the psychological aspects of their lives – how they view themselves and others, life in general and the role they play in relationships with others.

“They explore what they would like to change and what they would like relationships to be like,” explains Alison. “The program provides them with the tools, skills and strategies to bring about the changes they want to make in their lives.”

The program’s multi-disciplinary team approach, based on group therapy, provides patients with a rich therapeutic experience, Alison believes.

“Patients access many different perspectives and that could be of tremendous value to them,” she says. The treatment team is comprised of highly skilled psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, recreation therapists, art therapists, a program facilitator and a psychological associate. If needed, they also can consult with a nutritionist, pharmacist or a medical doctor.

Individuals with depression and anxiety disorders tend to feel isolated. Working in groups with other people who outwardly appear to be coping, but who are actually struggling, helps patients realize other people have similar problems.

“It is comforting to know that you are not alone,” she said, adding that, in groups, patients receive support and feedback from others who have had similar experiences. “The amount of wisdom in a group is mind-boggling. Group members come up with the most amazing suggestions based on their own experience.”

Changing her depressive lifestyle was not an easy task for Sharon, a former Homewood patient who was diagnosed with depression in 1974. “I have a well-developed depressive lifestyle,” she says. “I know what it is like to sit in a chair and not move for anything – I lived like that. I remember what it feels like and it really wasn’t living. I was just waiting to die.”

Sharon initially entered the IMAP program in the summer of 2001, but didn’t apply what she had learned to her lifestyle and continued to experience depression. A year later she returned to Homewood with a different attitude and different results.

“A lot of people go into IMAP thinking that just doctors are going to treat you, but they are certainly not your only care-givers. Medications definitely have their place in your treatment, but in my experience, recovery is 20 per cent medication and 80 per cent lifestyle. IMAP gave me the skills I needed to change my life.

“I am 100 per cent positive that without IMAP I wouldn’t be here today. And not only am I alive, but I’m really living. IMAP saved my life.”

Recognizing that the illness has far-reaching effects on the patient’s whole support network, involvement of family and friends in the patient’s recovery is encouraged, based on the individual’s wishes. Family members have opportunities to participate in Family Days, where they learn more about the illness, treatments available and ways to support their loved one.

Homewood Health Centre accepts patients from across Canada and most provincial health plans cover treatment at this facility. Patients must be referred to the program by a health-care professional.

For more information on IMAP, please contact Alison Abdool at 519-824-1010, ext. 2250, or check the website at www.homewoodhealth.org