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Successful Partnerships: A Patient Partner’s Experience in Health Research

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Categories: Improving Health Care, My Experience

We’re celebrating National Volunteer Week 2019 and thrilled to see all the amazing results of patient partners’ work across the province! One of them is Lisa Ridgway, from Victoria, who is participating in patient-oriented research to help improve mental health care in BC. Read her post to learn more about her experience.

“Royal Jubilee Hospital just installed guardrails around their open parkade. The Granville Street bridge has a barrier along the sides of the sidewalk. Too many people have tried to jump, and most were suffering from a mental health crisis. Mental illness is all around us, and yet all you see is fences and guardrails. Let me tell you my story – I am recovering from clinical depression. I was a high-flying lawyer with good money, lots of toys and no barriers in my way. Then my brother died and everything changed.

Mental illness is invisible to most people, and some people want to keep it that way. Think about those fences going up, and then think about walking up to a gate that opens to solid ground on the other side.

My experience as a patient being treated for depression

I am a patient partner with PVN and with the BC SUPPORT Unit on Vancouver Island. That’s what my business card says, and I’m proud of that. I am also a bone marrow donor for my brother, which helped him live a little longer. When Mark died, depression crept up like an unwelcome flood in the basement gradually soaking through all my carefully stored memories. I was referred to a great psychiatrist at RJH.  Dr. Song signed me up for repetitive trans-cranial magnetic stimulation for 40 days in a row (imagine a wood-pecker banging on your head). I enrolled in the Mental Wellness Programme at Royal Jubilee Hospital for eight months. Every day had a routine: therapy, exercise, coaching with a strong woman, living in the moment. With much help I began to feel well again.

Lisa Ridgway working with Dr. Raquel Romay-Tallon on the biomarkers project in Dr. Caruncho's lab at UVIC.2019.Patient-oriented research
Lisa working with Dr. Raquel Romay-Tallon on the biomarkers project in Dr. Caruncho’s lab at UVIC

Entering the world of patient-oriented research

The BC SUPPORT Unit and PVN gave me a second chance too. I am opening a gate – at least for me! – in patient-oriented research. Dr. Hector Caruncho – who holds a five-year Canada research chair at Translational Neuroscience at the University of Victoria (UVIC) – and I have submitted a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant proposal as co-applicants. The other applicants are professors at the University of British Columbia and UVIC; Dr. Song and a psychiatry intern resident here in Victoria; and a senior research analyst at Island Health. The title of our application is “Validation of Novel Peripheral Biomarkers of Depression – an iKT-POR Approach”.

Our plan is to look at biomarkers, in our case we will study novel indicators in the blood cells that correlate to depression, and then develop a plan to foster the translation of our findings into the public health setting. As the patient partner, I jumped in and co-wrote the CIHR grant proposal. The BC SUPPORT Unit gave me all the help they could, and Dr. Caruncho and I have been working together for months. If we get the grant, I’ll be thrilled, but if we don’t, I’m still a patient partner.

The importance of understanding mental illness and working together

I want to tear down some myths about mental illness. It can happen to anyone at any time: you can be at the top of your game and then you are in denial and you become unwell. Some people made me feel ashamed to have a mental illness – like it was something to hide, but we’re lucky to live in a place where you can get help.

My story is built on the friendships and the support that I got from our health care system here in British Columbia and the people who reached out. There are barriers and fences because mental illness is invisible, you can’t put a bandage on your soul.  But you can push through the trauma and open some doors.

If you know someone that is facing a bad time in their life, reach out. Give them a few minutes of your time. Find something to talk about, engage them and walk out with them – beyond the barrier of clinical depression or mental illness – to solid ground.

And last but not least, a big-shout out to Dr. Hector Caruncho at UVIC and the BC SUPPORT Unit on Vancouver Island for working hand-in-hand with a patient partner!”

You can participate in patient-oriented research too!

We would like to thank Lisa and all patient partners for their work and dedication to make health care better for everyone in BC. Your input is so important to help health care partners understand what matters to patients and how to provide them the best care!

If you would like to participate in health research, check out engagement opportunities with the BC SUPPORT Unit. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment here, get in touch with us via email or reach out to one of the engagement leaders in your region.

Author: Lisa Ridgway

Lisa Ridgway is a patient partner and a lawyer. After UBC Law and 15 years of wearing a suit and heels, she became an advocate for patient-oriented research and mental health issues. Lisa co-leads a patient-led research project and collaborates with UVIC, Island Health, the BC Support Unit and PVN. She's on Twitter at @LisaRidgway8

From Our Community

Agnes Black

Director, Health Services & Clinical Research and Knowledge Translation – Providence Health Care

Agnes Black

It’s really hard to make changes in health care. When a PVN patient partner says, ‘This is important to us’ it keeps us grounded on why a change is needed and keeps us motivated to keep going on projects.