Presentation to select committee on mental health and addictions



November 18, 2009

Presented by Ontario Consumer and Family Advisory Council Ontario Canadian Mental Association. Other members of Council also presented.

Hello, my name is Earla Dunbar and I am presenting as a consumer survivor.

At the age of 44, in 1998, I finally found help for my social phobia, agoraphobia, panic disorder and depression. When I was 5 I started to feel different, not wanting to leave the house without a family member, feeling sick and not going to school. Then when my Father died when I was 9 the depression set in. The Psychiatrist I was seeing at the time told my Mother to take me to Penatanguishine Mental Hospital and said if I did not straighten up this is where I would end up. The hospital terrified me and from that day forward I became the happy little girl. Then the other disorders set in.

In 1992 I was laid off my last job. I was finding this job almost impossible to do because of the anxiety and depression and was absent much of the time. No routine of working led me to become even more agoraphobic, depressed, and socially anxious and the panic seemed to be with me all the time. Then I began to disassociate. But whom was I going to tell all these symptoms to: they would say I was crazy and lock me up as I was told as a little girl. I learnt I had become a great actress and no one really suspected there was anything wrong. There were many suicide attempts during all this time.

When I finally got help at the CAMH I was relieved but terrified to tell my family since there was so much stigma about mental health. When I finally told my Mother she took me out of her will and would not talk to me for a while. She blamed me for putting the family to ‘shame’. Only when I started being interviewed on TV and the media and her friends found out they thought it was so brave of me did she accept me back as her daughter.

The stigma came from my Mother and myself.

Because of my disorders I could not even finish grade 10 and in my work never was able to get further in my workplace. People thought I was stupid and/or a snob. My terror of everything and everyone put me in a shell – a terrifying, scary, and very dark place.

If we could reach out to all children what a wonderful chance they would have. To be able to continue in school, to be able to make friends, to be able to join in family gatherings, to be able to work at what they want and grow, to be able to have a life. Instead of hiding which is what I did.

I am the founder of the Social Phobia Support Group of Toronto and when I talk to them and say it is up to you to talk about your mental illness, if you do not do it who will. But so many feel embarrassed by their illness. Social phobia is the third largest mental health illness we have and still there are so many still suffering. We must speak up and tell people not to be ashamed and that they can get well.

I feel very fortunate that I do have my life back and that I had such wonderful support with professionals and still do. Also, what is so refreshing is that I am not terrified of people, I am now making friends. I never thought I would be where I am in this world today and am so glad I am still here.

These are my recommendations and the support for them.

To be successful in helping others early intervention is necessary. Education in mental health to parents, teachers, family doctors and young adults are needed.

Every person who is part of a school community is a teacher for mental health and well-being. 1

One out of 4 young adults will experience a mental disorder within a12-month period. 2

Early recognition and treatment reduces long-term treatment. 3

Young adults feel powerless, guilt, utterly alone. 4

I thank you for your time.


  1. MindMatters The Whole School Approach: Is a national mental health initiative for secondary schools funded by the Australia Government Department of Health & Aging.


Mobilizing Minds: What is knowledge Transition funded by Canadian Institute of Health Research and Mental Health Commission of Canada.

This is what else they found with their research:

Mental health problems are highly prevalent and often have their onset in early adolescent (Kessler et al., 1994)

Early intervention and use of mental health services is highly underutilized by young adults (18-25 years old).

Those 15 to 24 years have highest rate of unmet mental health care needs compared to older population. (Canadian Community Health Survey, 2002)

Young adults suffering from mental health problems are routinely faced with complex decisions regarding care in the absence of critical information.

  1. Dr. Brian Rush 2009, Center for Addiction and Mental Health

His research:

Life course perspective demands attention be given to “early” years.

Mental health and substance use problems typically persist overtime.

Mental health problems are risk factors for later substance and vice versa.

Common risk factors behind each (e.g. social determinants, family, some genetic risk for particular disorder combinations).

Early recognition and treatment reduces long-term treatment trajectory (outcome, cost).