Andrew Wolfe proudly displays paintings he completed a short while ago. They’re on display in the McKerracher Centre, the place where he received help and support to help him deal with his depression.

Wolfe has suffered from depression since he was 28. He’s 56 now. But it took a tragic incident about three years ago to put him on the road to recovery.

“I was in City Hospital in December of 2007 and I was extremely depressed,” Wolfe recounts. “I was reacting to my medication. My life was terrible and I didn’t want to be there anymore. So, I took off one very cold morning around six in the morning. I didn’t have gloves or anything. My hands started to freeze so I went into a bus shelter but passed out from the pain in my now-freezing hands. I was there for four and a half hours.”

Wolfe ended up in the emergency room with hypothermia and frost-bite resulting in the loss of most of the fingers on his right hand.

Since that tragic incident, Wolfe says his medication has been corrected and the support of his family and the staff at the McKerracher Centre have helped him find a new life.

Andrew Wolfe believes a combination of controlled medication levels and good support from the community and his family helped him cope with his mental illness

Mental illness is a treatable medical condition like any other illness. Each day, between three and four million Canadians live with a mental illness. It can affect anyone regardless of their social, financial or employment status. Statistics show that one in four people will be directly affected by a mental illness.

Support systems are crucial to helping individuals live a full life with a mental illness. During Mental Health Week, May 3 to 7, 2010, the theme is “building your mental health one support at a time.”

“A person may need to expand their support system when confronted with a serious mental illness, life challenge or crisis,” says Karyn Kawula, program manager at McKerracher Centre. “Saskatoon offers a wide variety of supports for persons affected by mental health and addictions in the community and through Saskatoon Health Region.”

Those supports may include a medical doctor, psychiatrist, 12-step programs, self-help groups, and community-based programs such as Canadian Mental Health Association, Crocus Co-op, Saskatoon Housing Coalition and Family Services Saskatoon among others.

“The services in the Health Region are offered through Mental Health and Addiction Services,” says Kawula. These services may be accessed through centralized intake by calling 655-7950.

“A foundation for support begins with caring relationships with family and/or friends, positive relationships at work, good neighbours, and ties to the community,” adds Kawula.

“I have a very good brother and sister who have helped me so much,” says Wolfe. “The nurses at McKerracher supported me lots. I had been doing art, but I didn’t want to go back because of my hand. But (recreation therapist) Anne (Robins) encouraged me to go to Sherbrooke Centre to take an art class.”

“Now I volunteer at Sherbrooke in the art program and I have a job at the Saskatchewan Abilities Council,” says Wolfe. His advice to others who have a mental illness is, “Let go of the past. Mental illness is a condition. It doesn’t have to be traumatic.” And to those who provide support to those individuals, he says, “Don’t give up on the person.”