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Jim Tremain : Destigmatize Mental Health
Dollars, Sense, and Mental Health

“I’m the kind of person who likes to set and reach goals,” says long-time Douglas board member and mental health champion James (Jim) Tremain. “I’ll do whatever I can to support the Hospital, Research Centre and Foundation with their upcoming major campaign. Over the years, domestic violence, alcoholism, child abuse, cancer and AIDS have become destigmatized.We must do the same with mental illness.”

He continues, “We’resorely lacking funds to promote mental health, when compared to support for problems like cancer and AIDS. One in five Quebecers has a mental illness and most do not seek help. This has to change.”

Jim’s passion for mental health issues arises from having lived the unthinkable nightmare of losing a child to suicide. He and his wife Elizabeth, affectionately known as Kiki, lost the youngest of their three daughters, Loretta, at the age of 27.

When Jim retired from a successful business career, he looked for ways to share his expertise in management in marketing, human resources and corporate planning. Convinced that mental health issues were lacking attention, he became a Foundation trustee in1990. He then joined the Hospital board in 1993. Today, he is one of the board’s most passionate and active mental health advocates.

He speaks with pride of his daughter Loretta, “She was a natural leader—the co-president of her high school’s student council,” he pauses, and then adds with a smile, “and she was the brains of her basketball team. Though she was just 5’9”—not tall for a basketball player—she was the one who made the plays.”

But as Loretta entered her  twenties, her life changed. She was struck with health problems, most notably Crohn’s Disease, an inflammation of the intestines.

He recalls, “She lost weight, became increasingly stressed, and gradually slipped from moderate depression into a black despair. Over the years, she became worn down by depression and severe chronic pain resulting from fractures from her first suicide attempt. Loretta died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1991.”

While Loretta’s problems were escalating, Kiki was having mental health problems of her own. She had begun to experience psychotic symptoms in 1976. Although she began seeking treatment in 1976, she was not properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder till 1999—a diagnosis she credits to Douglas psychiatrist N.P Vasavan Nair, MD.

Despite having battled mental illness for over twenty years, and endured three bouts of various forms of cancer, Kiki has thankfully survived—a fact that Jim credits to sheer determination and a self-effacing sense of humor. Looking back, Kiki is convinced that her grandmother and aunt also had a mental illness. She sees herself and Loretta as the latest in a long line of casualties in their family’s history.

 “Having been a businessman,” he explains, “I tend to look at the dollars and cents of an issue. Take, for example, the Douglas Hospital’s outstanding PEPP Program for young people experiencing their first episode of psychosis. Right now, I’m asking for an estimate of what it costs to maintain this program, versus what it would cost if they were left untreated for a longer period and didn’t receive a specialized approach. I believe that it will show that the PEPP Program is dramatically more cost effective. It is certainly more humane.”

Although he has been frustrated with lacklustre government, business and individual support for mental health, he sees awareness growing and an opportunity for change. “I visited the CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) in Toronto with Douglas staff last March and was tremendously impressed. They’re about to embark on huge public awareness campaign for 2006-7. It’s incredible.

“While we were there, we met Dr. David Goldbloom, CAMH’s psychiatrist-in-chief. He’s putting everything he’s got behind the push to destigmatize mental illness. And Michael Wilson, a former federal finance minister, whose son had schizophrenia and committed suicide, is constantly in the media, raising people’s awareness of mental health issues.”

Jim is thrilled that the Douglas is making similar bold moves, spurred by increased collaboration between the Foundation, Hospital and Research Centre. “Our Foundation is about to embark on a twenty million dollar fundraising campaign, the first campaign of this scope in its history.“We have the ability to provide the right leadership and to achieve our goals.

“I look forward to the challenge.

What word best describes mental illness?

What film has most influenced your thoughts on mental health?
Ma vie en cinémascope

How do you maintain a balanced lifestyle?
Regular exercise and spirituality (time for reflection, for “letting go”)

Who is doing outstanding work in destigmatizing mental illness?
David Goldbloom, MD, Physician-in-Chief, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

In 125 years, will the Douglas still be here?

One word that describes the Douglas?

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Affiliated with McGill University. A WHO/PAHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health