I’ll sit with you

The day Sara Cinq-Mars sat in the Psychiatry reception area at Queensway Carleton Hospital (QCH) was the day she knew things had to change. A loved one was in distress and she was there to help. While waiting, she looked around and didn’t like what she saw. “It was a dingy, sad place,” she remembers. “There was no privacy and people streamed back and forth.”

So Sara got to work:

“I didn’t know what I could do, but I knew we would figure something out. I didn’t have the money, but I had the time, and I had my voice.”

Event Chair, Sara Cinq-Mars at QCH Foundation’s Harvesting Hope at the Farm fundraising gala, September 2019.

Sara met with senior hospital staff and shared her experience. She arranged for tours and hospital and Foundation board members agreed to have a look and see what she had seen. Then she worked with QCH Foundation and other mental health champions including Barbara Crook, Kathy Turner and Denis Daoust, and Chris and Erin Phillips to launch the Hopes Rising campaign for mental healthcare at QCH.

A launch breakfast, three sold-out galas, and many conversations later, the shovels are now in the ground. In addition to $9 million from the Ministry of Health, an incredible $6 million has been raised by generous donors. They have been inspired by the hope of families — including the Cinq-Mars’.

The new unit will include renovated existing space and a new two-story addition. There will be more inpatient beds and expanded outpatient services,meaning additional, faster access to mental healthcare in Ottawa.

And true to Sara’s vision, the new space will include a secure outdoor courtyard, additional group support spaces, an area for exercise, and a comfort room. The project is expected to be completed in 2023.

For Sara, raising awareness about the importance of supporting people struggling with their own mental well-being has been an incredible journey.Sharing her family’s story — including her personal experience — has been powerful, both for Sara and her many supporters. In fact, she never expected to have to access QCH’s mental health services. But she did.

“Now it was my turn. When I needed to reach out for help, I realized how difficult it is. I was embarrassed, I didn’t want to tell anyone, and I didn’t want to go to QCH. But honestly, I’m so glad it happened. I was supported. And I knew I would get the help I needed.”

Sara went on to tell her story at the last gala event. “I wasn’t planning on sharing, but it would have been hypocritical not to. It was so eye-opening to me to realize that so many people struggle at some point in their lives. That is why the renovated unit at QCH is so important.”

Amazingly, friends and family reached out to Sara to share their own struggles. “I’m not an expert, but I am an ear and a shoulder. My message is simple:

I will sit in the waiting room with you. And I’ll still be waiting for you when your appointment is over. We all need to listen and talk and help one another. I know how comforting it is to not be alone.”

At the official opening of the renovated Mental Health unit, Sara says she will probably burst into tears. “I will be so happy for the patients who get to go to the new, bright space. I will be so happy for the staff. And our community will know that QCH cares about them. It will be a place full of hope.”