An End to Silent Suffering

By Schlesinger, Joel | Winnipeg Free Press, July 12, 2016 | Go to article overview

An End to Silent Suffering


Schlesinger, Joel, Winnipeg Free Press


Kailey Ramlal woke up one morning seeing black spots. She didn't think much of it at the time -- only that perhaps she had been pushing things a little too hard.

"I was working full-time, taking summer courses and working part-time at another job," says the 24-year-old.

But she went to see a doctor just in case. Months later, to her surprise, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

That was three years ago.

"I was terrified. I didn't know much about it," says the Manitoba Hydro employee. "I took it really hard."

Suddenly, university, a career, relationships and other milestones -- such as having a family -- were filtered through the lens of a chronic and often degenerative neurological disease.

Ramlal's experience is common among the thousands of Manitobans with MS -- a disease attacking the insulation of the nervous system, impairing many bodily functions intermittently or sometimes even permanently.

Like her, many are diagnosed in early adulthood as their lives are poised to take flight.

They often feel alone and, understandably, very anxious.

Yet few supports are geared specifically for young adults with MS.

"When I was diagnosed, there was no program for my age group or really formal support," says Ramlal, a 2016 Manitoba MS Walk ambassador.

That changed last month when Ramlal and three other young Manitobans with MS launched a first-of-its-kind event in the province.

Along with Lizelle Mendoza, Jennifer Davenport and Sheena Grobb, Ramlal helped organize a Manitoba MS Society-sponsored, one-day event on June 12 called The Heart of It.

Aimed at connecting people in their 20s and 30s so they can share their stories about MS, the event addressed overlooked aspects of the illness: the emotional and psychological impacts.

And new research points to a need for these kinds of initiatives. Recently published studies, including a few done here in Manitoba, have found mental health is extremely important to the well-being of MS patients.

Besides dealing with dizziness, loss of strength, bladder incontinence, difficulty walking and vision problems such as optic neuritis (seeing black spots), new research indicates MS sufferers also are more likely to experience higher levels of depression and other mental illness.

"Over the course of the disease, we know that risk of depression, for example, is quite high," says Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at the Health Sciences Centre.

"Half of MS patients will have a period of depression at some point, and up to one in three will suffer from anxiety."

A leading Manitoba researcher, Marrie has conducted a number of studies investigating the connection between mental health and MS.

"Among what we've found is these (psychiatric disorders) affect quality of life for people as much as physical disability associated with the disease, which really illustrates the importance of treating these issues adequately. …

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