It’s Monday May 6, 2019 and in Montreal, the Drug Rehabilitation Centre for Mentally Ill Chemical Abusers (MICA) is a beehive of activity. Five female residents of the MICA Centre look on as the dining room undergoes a transformation in the lead-up to the official inauguration of one of Portage’s most unique programs. Today, the centre’s male residents are on an outing, while the women take centre stage!
An Innovative Program
The MICA program for men has yielded extraordinary results every year since its inception in 1995. Portage had long wanted to extend its MICA program to include women. Just under a year ago, Portage welcomed its first female resident to the MICA centre. Thanks to Employment and Social Development Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy and to the Portage Foundation’s generous donors, there is new hope for women struggling with mental illness and addiction.
The program addresses three co-occurring problems: mental health issues, addiction and homelessness. Every Portage program is tailored to individuals according to their gender, circumstances and personal journey.
The President of Portage, Peter A. Howlett, is pleased that the program has been made available to women: “Portage has wanted to implement a women’s program for many years now. While there was already a program for men, there was no similar service offering for women and so we are delighted that donors rallied to ensure its implementation. The therapeutic approach has been modified to treat women with mental illness and addiction problems and enable them to live a healthy lifeʺ.
The inauguration provided an opportunity to highlight the devotion and hard work of the Portage partners who were involved in developing the program, and to underscore its importance. As a Clinical Psychiatrist, Clinical-administrative Chief and Head of the JAP clinic (for youth who have undergone a psychotic episode), Doctor Amal Abdel-Baki, Head of the Youth Mental Health Continuum, talked with great conviction about the help Portage provides to individuals in distress. Doctor Abdel-Baki’s work puts her in direct contact with individuals experiencing mental health and addiction problems. She points out the severe lack of services for people who suffer from both mental illness and addiction.
… and pride
On Monday, May 6th, emotion grips the audience when Jéziel, one of the first graduates of the MICA program for women, walks up to the microphone to share her story: “I felt like a monster living amid society. I couldn’t do anything anymore. I was merely surviving. I was experiencing episodes of toxic psychosis and couldn’t trust myself anymore. When I was diagnosed with a schizoaffective disorder, I started taking medication that had a lot of side effects. I fell into a depression and started using again…”.
The young woman seems self-assured and talks about her troubled past as if it was nothing more than a memory. She describes her stay at Portage: “I entered the MICA program for women on June 20th. I was part of a small group that could accommodate up to nine individuals with mental health and addiction issues. At first, I had trouble getting through the day because I had just gotten out of the hospital, where I did nothing but eat and sleep. At Portage, every day, we had several group meetings on various topics, such as family relationships. What I discovered at Portage was a great deal of love. The counsellors are so devoted to their work that I felt like I had found a new familyʺ. The MICA program is unique because it requires its residents to work at learning how to manage their mental health problems, while developing social skills and a support network. The counsellors’ commitment to helping the residents is obvious and reflects the special bond between them. That bond is not only professional, it also based on emotion and pride.