Esther Herbert - increasing awareness, erasing stigma

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Esther Herbert is no stranger to Oak Valley Health, she has been a long standing advocate, supporter and patient of the organization’s mental health services since 2000.

Although it was a long road to receiving her bipolar diagnosis, Esther speaks about her situation without fear of judgement. She has even admitted she finds it hard to stop talking about it!

After feeling isolated and alone with her secret for many years, Esther feels liberated, and she wants others to achieve the same sense of freedom.

Bell Let’s Talk encourages participants to have an open conversation about mental health, and Esther embodies this day in and day out.

“I want to encourage people to get well and stay well, and in their loneliest times, it sounds cliché, but I want them to know you are not alone,” says Esther. “It’s so important to provide a safe space and avenue for others to share their story, if they want to do so.”

Bipolar, often confused for depression, wasn’t talked about when she was growing up, and Esther self medicated with alcohol at a very young age. High school and college were hard, and Esther remembers feelings of not fitting in.

In 2000, Esther had a mental break down while at work and authorities were called. She was handcuffed and rushed to Oak Valley Health’s Markham Stouffville Hospital, where she met Dr. Mark Berber, Psychiatrist, who remains her physician today.

“That day changed my life,” says Esther. “I finally knew what I had, how I could manage, and got the help I always needed.”

Life, of course, has its ups and downs and Esther knows the importance of longevity when it comes to her diagnosis and the importance of staying medicated and speaking with her psychiatrist.

Coping during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to how people live their life, and at times, uncertainty, altered daily routines, financial pressures and social isolation. During the pandemic, people may experience stress, anxiety, fear, and sadness. And mental health disorders can worsen.

Esther explains how the hardest thing for her, and likely many others, is the isolation of having a mental disorder not many understand.

“Asking for help is hard, and some people who are struggling won’t have the strength to,” says Esther. “I always encourage others to be supportive and connect with friends and family, smile at strangers. This way we aren’t always putting the onus on people who are sick to reach out – little actions can go a long way.”

Esther’s positive outlook is infectious. She has been motivating people for 21 years, and there is no stopping in sight.

“I am much stronger than I ever thought I could be,” says Esther. “I don’t want to let myself down, but I can’t do it alone, I have friends, family and professionals on my side, cheering me on.”

How can we help?

At Oak Valley Health’s Markham Stouffville Hospital, we offer Adult Inpatient and Outpatient Mental Health services and Outpatient Child and Adolescent Mental Health services. Referrals to our Outpatient Mental Health services can be completed by family physicians for those who reside in the Eastern York Region and North Durham catchment area.

Additional community resources:

York Support Services Crisis Line
1-855-310-2673 or toll free 1-866-323-7785

York Support Services Network
Streamlined Access – Connecting you to Mental Health, Addiction and Dual Diagnosis Services in York Region and South Simcoe
289-340-0348 or toll free 1-844-660-6602

Canadian Mental Health Association York and South Simcoe
Offers mental health support for youth, adults, families and caregivers    
1-866-345-0183

Addition Services Central Ontario
1-800-263-2288

Wellness Together Canada/Mental Health and Substance Use
Immediate Crisis Support: Text WELLNESS to 741741