Overcoming a dark chapter battling drug and substance abuse in the late 80s, Otello felt compelled to be a source of light and help others in need. For most of his life he has been a designer by trade, but he lives his true passion providing spiritual guidance and support, serving as a minister to his community.

But as the world battled with the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, Otello’s light had burnt out. He also faced the heartbreaking loss of his mother and cousin Peter who was also his priest. They were the release valves for the stress he carried, someone to lend an ear and help guide his path. With their passing, stress began to overflow, leaving him feeling isolated and overwhelmed.

As the weight of his struggles became unbearable, Otello’s mental health began to deteriorate. For months, he found himself battling despair, doubting his faith, and contemplating taking his own life. The lack of available mental health resources compounded his desperation until Otello’s wife brought him to Magna Emergency Department at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital.

An encounter with a compassionate psychiatrist brought a glimmer of hope. The psychiatrist provided guidance, medical recommendations and became a vital source of support, sharing the many mental health resources and services offered at both Mackenzie Health hospitals.

Soon after, Otello received a call from Anne Schaffer-Pullan, an occupational therapist in the Outpatient Mental Health Unit about an opening in Mackenzie Health’s Stepping Stones Mental Health Day Hospital. The program is offered at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital and provides adult group treatment for patients requiring support.

This call brought renewed hope to Otello and his family, but Otello doubted his ability to participate. With his wife's unwavering support and encouragement, he reluctantly attended an orientation session, which proved to be a turning point in his journey. The program's caring team and empowering lessons began to rekindle his sense of purpose and ignite his recovery.

Through a six-week program, patients like Otello learn critical skills to support self-esteem wellness, anxiety and depression management. They also meet individually with a primary therapist on a weekly basis to support their journey.

Anne shares Stepping Stones helps create a space where people don’t feel alone on their journey. The purpose of the program is to help patients create an environment where they can grow and reintegrate back into their daily lives.

Every aspect of the Mental Health Program is designed with the safety, wellness and comfort of patients in mind. The multi-disciplinary team provides each member an opportunity explore coping strategies and understand their symptoms. Patients also benefit from access to modern group facilities like a gym and a kitchen to practice daily living skills.

One in four people suffer from mental health in York Region. With the support of community donors, access to these resources and state-of-the-art spaces enhanced treatments, support recovery and give more patients the best start on their healing journey.

The community atmosphere and the sense of mutual trust created through these group experiences are part of the Stepping Stones mission. While in the program, Otello met individuals with similar experiences and shared struggles. With each passing day, he felt a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to reclaim his life.

“When someone saves your life, you don’t forget that. This hospital and Stepping Stones have been my saving grace. It gave me a second take on life. Emotionally, mentally, physically, it gave me the tools to move forward and believe there is hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel,” says Otello.

After Stepping Stones, Otello sought care with the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program offered at Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital as part of the Mental Health Outpatient Services for Adults. Here, Otello is continuing his healing journey and learning strategies and exercises to practice in his everyday life.

“Being vulnerable is where the healing starts and when you realize you can’t do it on your own, you see the people around you who are willing to help. I have built trust, recovered relationships and if my experience can help the next person, that is what I will do,” says Otello.