A former Weyburn resident and co-organizer of the book, “Breaking the Silence”, Darren Neuberger, shared his story about overcoming addiction and cancer, and encouraged people to speak up about their mental health issues.
Neuberger was the guest speaker for the Mayor’s Luncheon, the kickoff event for the 67th annual Mental Health Week in Weyburn, held on Monday at McKenna Hall.
Mayor Marcel Roy said much more work is needed to improve mental health issues in Weyburn, and encouraged people to work together and to reach out to the youth in the community to make a difference in their lives.
Terry Romanow, the regional director of mental health and addictions, spoke about initiatives under the Sask. Health Authority, including a comprehensive integrated medical record system which will become available in the next few months, and a review and redesign of mental health and addictions services. She noted the new mental health facility in North Battleford will be opened later this year, with an increase from 156 to 188 spaces for mental health patients and corrections inmates.
A mental health first-aid program is available for people working with youth to help with suicide prevention, and the department is also looking at emergent issues like crystal meth or opioid abuse.
There have been 1,700 people trained province-wide in the use of naloxen, and 600 naloxen kits are available to help prevent overdoses of opioids such as fentanyl. There are kits available in the Weyburn-Estevan areas through Addictions Services, said Romanow.
Dave Nelson, the associate executive director of CMHA for Saskatchewan, noted that this year is CMHA’s 100th year, with the organization approaching 70 years in Saskatchewan.
“There is no health without mental health,” he said, adding, “We really do need to beef up our efforts to prevent suicide, and to improve our mental health by paying attention to the determinants of mental health, such as diet and income.”
He said while the Health ministry is continuing with some initiatives, he was critical of the government’s recent budget.
“One thing they forgot about for branches such as this one. For the fourth year in a row, they’ve received a zero-per-cent increase, and that’s just not acceptable,” said Nelson, adding that community-based organizations like the CMHA should not be taken for granted by given adequate support.
As Neuberger took the stage, he held up a copy of the book, “Breaking the Silence — Our Stories of Health and Hope”, and encouraged people in the audience to pick up a copy on the way out.
Speaking of how he had an email conversation with Ramona Iida and Geoff Brown about the concept, he noted the book collected 25 stories from local residents about their struggles with mental health issues, including his own story.
“It’s been such a godsend for many people,” said Neuberger, noting there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues.
“We don’t like to talk about this, but the stats don’t lie, with the number of kids who take their own lives, it’s got to stop. I see a lot of people who are passionate about making a positive change,” he said, referring to the audience on hand for the luncheon.
His own story was one on gambling addiction, and he noted the other stories talked about issues and problems they grew up with. The book has sold about 500 copies so far, and the proceeds have gone to help Dominic’s House, located at the former St. Dominic School on Fourth Street.
Neuberger said he likes the annual campaign “Let’s Talk” about mental health issues promoted by Bell, but noted it’s a need that exists year-round and not just once a year.
He noted he spoke at the Comp School earlier that day, and talked about issues like bullying and mental health issues. He found it interesting that when he asked if anyone would admit to being a bully, only one hand went up, but when he asked how many are dealing with mental health issues, or know someone who is, nearly every hand in the audience went up.
A major factor to mental health issues and its effects on people these days is the use and abuse of social media, because “it’s easy to paste a nasty message or post a snap-chat that disappears in three seconds. Parents, you can monitor that stuff all you want, but kids will find a way.”
In spite of many of the students indicating they are dealing with mental health issues, or know someone who is, many of those same people aren’t saying anything to anybody about those things because they’re afraid to talk about something that might be construed as negative.
“The police deal with this stuff every single day. I can’t imagine doing their job. They see way more than we ever could every day,” said Neuberger, encouraging applause for the police members who were present.
Referring briefly to his gambling issues, his wife sat him down after they had been married about three years, and told him he needed to deal with gambling or their marriage was going to be over. He went to Gamblers Anonymous, and at first wasn’t admitting to a problem, but within about six months he was a full-fledged member.
After a full year of attending GA, he decided to try going to a casino to see if he could handle some gambling, and after gambling away about $500 in a matter of minutes, he knew he couldn’t handle going back to that, and he hasn’t gambled at all since then.
About a year after that, Neuberger despaired as this process had deflated him as a person, and he decided he would commit suicide. He sat down with a bottle of pills, and attempted four times to swallow them, but couldn’t do it, and threw the pills across the room.
He worked for a time in the oilfield at Grande Prairie, and after developing a persistent cough, went to see a doctor and found out he had leukemia. He ended up taking 600 chemo treatments, during which time he had to go to the ICU after developing a severe fever, but in the end he beat the cancer, and has been free of it for 13 years now.