By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Men’s Mental Health Week takes place during an entire week in June each year, and this year it was recognized from June 13-19.
The goal of Men’s Mental Health Week is to raise awareness and conversations surrounding men’s mental health with a special focus on research, education, and actions that can help men to express themselves more freely.
One author, a man named Bruce Ross, is doing his part to help with the release of his novel, ‘Breaking Free of Depression’s Grip – A Powerful Success Story,’ which recounts his own struggles with mental health over the course of 45 years.
Ross, originally from Dartmouth, N.S., said he was between grades nine and ten when he first felt the depression coming through.
“I started to feel displaced, glum and sad, all of these things that are typically associated with depression, very lonely and very out of place with society, but I didn’t know what I was dealing with, frankly, because this was 1975, a long time ago, and mental health wasn’t discussed then like it is now, so it didn’t even cross my mind that I might be having a problem with my mental health.”
Ross said he didn’t have a relationship with his parents, so he was unable to open up to them about what he was going through, and instead embarked on the journey alone.
“After I graduated high school, I went out west to Edmonton for a summer, for a year I should say, and I went out there just to try and find myself. I thought a new venue would snap me out of whatever mental problem I was having, but it didn’t help. So I came back, went to Saint Mary’s University, got my BCOM (Bachelor of Commerce), graduated from there in 1982, went out west again to Edmonton, and again that was all for naught because it didn’t relieve the issues because your problems follow you no matter where you go.”
After a short time back in Dartmouth, Ross made the move to Ontario, where he still resides.
“I moved to Ontario under the pretense of economic opportunities, but that wasn’t true. I used that as a cover. Again, even though the trips to Edmonton were futile, I thought if I got a new start in life permanently, my ship would come in, so to speak, and things would get better for me.”
Ross ended up in Chatham and said this is where he decided to make his stand, that he wasn’t going to run anymore. The time to fight had begun.
“Twenty years had elapsed before my wife said to me, ‘Bruce, I think you suffer from depression,’ so that’s 20 years of undiagnosed depression. Hard to believe in this day and age, but that’s what it was, and I went to my family doctor who indeed diagnosed it as depression. He didn’t expand on what type of depression it was because depression is like cancer. There is different types of cancer and there’s different types of depression, and so he just diagnosed it as depression after about a five-minute talk and prescribed Prozac, which was the wonder drug at that time, and sent me on my way. But Prozac didn’t do anything for me and that set me on my journey over the next 25 years until today, trying to solve the depression riddle.”
During that time, he underwent numerous medications, therapies and nothing seemed to have the desired effect, which was to cure the depression that invaded his mind. Ross tried 20 different types of medication, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, repetitive trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, ketamine treatments, and electroconvulsive therapy and none of effects from the treatments ever lasted. Ross said the biggest treatment he ever underwent, by far, was deep brain stimulation.
“Everybody is familiar with the pacemaker for the heart. Well, deep brain stimulation, as the name suggests, is like a pacemaker for the brain. I was a research candidate in Toronto Western Hospital, research candidate number one of 40 patients going through for the treatment. What it involves is a surgeon drills two holes into your forehead and inserts two wires into your brain, into the area where the depression is supposed to reside, and then connects the wires together from the electrodes and implants a battery in your chest, just like the pacemaker for your heart.”
After years of struggles trying to find a medication or treatment to help, it was hard not to lose hope.
“The one characteristic of depression that I never really had until those things didn’t help was, hopelessness. I always had a sense of hope that I’d find a cure, but then that hope started to fade as the treatment options fell by the wayside.”
Aside from medical interventions, Ross said he turned to self-help methods to attempt to improve his mental health. He read books, ran marathons, participated in triathlons, but he found himself always chasing a new challenge once one was completed.
Then he began to write.
“It began for therapeutic reasons to start with, and then to share the message, ultimately. That’s really the driving force behind it.”
Ross said there were three main things that were finally able to help him make it through the struggles he faced – his ethics and integrity, his friends, and his wife, Cheryl.
“She has been the Rock of Gibraltar for me the last 25 years, and not because she’s pitied me or coddled me, but because she’s been there as a rock which I aspire to be like. She gave me confidence and something to live up to.”
Today Ross has found a medication that works to ‘dam off’ the depression he knows is still there, and despite having some physical effects from his depression, he said the mental distress has been relieved.
Ross said that anyone who is struggling with their own mental health, should do a couple of things.
“The number one step to recovery is to accept it so you can move on from there. Number two would be to learn. There’s no excuse in this day and age to not understand illnesses you are dealing with and to gain a concrete understanding of it. Number three is be pro-active with your mental health. If you don’t remain pro-active with doctors and mental health professionals, you can quickly fall of the treadmill so to speak.”
Breaking Free of Depression’s Grip – A Powerful Success Story is available to purchase online via Amazon.ca or http://www.brucerross.ca.