Sunday, January 31, 2010

Her life story goes from fearful to awesome

An article published in today's edition of The Province:
By Lora Grindlay

For the 11th year, Coast Mental Health will present six people with Courage to Come Back awards for overcoming injury, illness and adversity and for inspiring those around them while doing so. Recipients will be celebrated at a gala dinner at Vancouver's Hyatt Regency hotel on April 30. Today we profile the recipient in the mental-health category. Find more at


No longer is Tina Tomashiro's life ruled by fear.

Her days are now measured in achievement and accomplishment: Three years since she last used crack cocaine; four courses of the 11 she needs to be a paralegal completed; a full-time job as office manager of Pivot Legal Society; the correct medication and the self-awareness to control her depression and paranoid schizophrenia; mastering the art of doing perfect circles on her rollerblades.

And now a Courage to Come Back award -- a testament to her willingness and determination to change the life she once lived. It was the life of a homeless, drug-addicted woman with an untreated mental illness suffering severe trauma following a violent assault in 2002.

"I was totally unemployable four years ago because of my mental health, because of self-esteem. I had low self-worth, very little support," said Tomashiro, 39 (pictured).

Tomashiro struggled with mental illness for years and was diagnosed with depression in 1999 and with schizophrenia in 2005.

In the years between the diagnoses she was the victim of a violent attack at the hands of someone she thought she knew.

"I'm a little too trusting, a little too nice," she said. "I actually thought I was going to die that night."

Tomashiro believes the attack triggered something inside her.

"I started being scared all the time," she said. "I think that somehow I snapped."

Following the attack, she lost her job of over two years at BCIT, began using crack cocaine and moved to Calgary where, when she wasn't living on the streets, she was in the psychiatric ward of a hospital.

Tomashiro returned to Vancouver in late 2004 and moved into the Stanley Hotel, a supported-housing program in the Downtown Eastside operated by the Portland Hotel Society. It was there that she reached rock bottom with a suicide attempt, but it's also where she started her comeback.

Dr. Bill MacEwan, a psychiatrist familiar to many in the Downtown Eastside, got her stabilized on medication. And she quit crack.

"Everything that happened from when I was assaulted, I just lived for fear," she said. "I used to use [crack] and it made me really scared. I just reached a point where I was tired of being scared. I was scared that I was going to wake up scared again."

Tomashiro now lives at the Portland's Pennsylvania Hotel in the Downtown Eastside, has renewed contact with her 17-year-old daughter and credits the Portland Hotel Society, Pivot Legal Society and MacEwan for investing in her life.

She's renovated and painted her single-occupancy room, repaired clothes for her neighbours, secured a $500-grant to plant a community garden, and threw a barbeque for the neighbourhood.

Tomashiro started an art program at the Carnegie Centre, promoted Pivot's Hope in Shadows calendar and has spoken publicly about her struggles with mental illness.

"I've changed so much in the last few years," she said.

Photograph by Nick Procaylo, The Province.

Learning to cope

An article published in the January 29th edition of The Truro Daily News:
Educating yourself key to dealing with mental illness

By Monique Chiasson

TRURO – Martha Rodler (pictured) has come to expect people uttering “stupid” or “crazy” under their breath within her earshot.

She doesn’t approve of such rude actions, but she deals with it in a positive way.
“I feel bad for them because it’s their problem and they are looking for a reaction so I don’t give it to them,” said the North River resident who has learned how to deal with mental illness issues in a healthy way. Her mother and brother were both diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago and while she has had to learn how to cope with their illness, she has also had to educate herself on how to handle society’s ignorance and intolerance of mental illness.

“There’s still a stigma that someone with mental illness is stupid and it can be shameful for some ... but you can’t let what other people think affect you,” said Rodler. “You need to see there’s a person beyond the illness and it wasn’t their choice to have it. It’s a challenge that has made me a stronger person.”

Before Rodler educated herself on understanding mental illness and enforcing healthy boundaries, she often felt “stress, resentment and anger.”

She said as important as it was for her to learn how to accept, understand and deal with other people’s mental illness, it is also vital the community becomes more understanding and tolerant as well.

“If a person with mental health (issues) has learned to live with it why can’t we (as a society)? It’s time to break the cycle of stigma,” said Rodler.

There are many ways of getting help, she said, including searching for information online, self help groups, therapy, books and tapes and through the local Canadian Mental Health Association.

The association hosted Wine, Women and Wellness at the Marigold Thursday night. The event was the first of its kind in Truro with the goal of bringing women together to become closer, share their experiences and help raise awareness about mental health. “It’s great,” said Rodler. “Women are very strong but we need each other.”

The association’s executive director, Crystal Hill, said such events are vital to the community.

“Everybody is affected by mental health and it’s important to recognize the importance of talking about it ... so people know there are resources available,” said Hill.

Also see:

Learning about Schizophrenia: Rays of Hope - A Reference Manual for Families & Caregivers (PDF)

Symptoms of Psychosis & Schizophrenia (PDF)

Photograph by Monique Chiasson, Truro Daily News.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Doctors and dentists who 'substance abuse' helped

An article posted on January 28th by BBC News:

A pilot project giving special help to doctors and dentists with health problems has treated 184 people in its first year.

By Jane Dreaper, Health Correspondent, BBC News

62% of them had mental health problems, while 36% were battling drink or drug addiction.

Of the 78 who weren't working when they came into contact with the scheme, 46% returned to work.

The medical director of the project said she had been surprised at the extent of substance misuse.

The project has been hailed a success and there are plans to expand it.

A third of the medics contacted the service because they were already involved in disciplinary proceedings.

Depression was the mental health problem most commonly diagnosed by the NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) - but the service also uncovered six cases of psychosis that hadn't previously been treated.

Of the 67 doctors and dentists who attended the service with addiction problems, 51 were drinking too much alcohol while 16 were abusing a range of drugs - including heroin, ketamine and cocaine.


The PHP was set up because NHS clinicians are often embarrassed to seek help for these sorts of problems.

It also has to ensure that patients aren't put at risk by doctors and dentists who are unwell.

Five of the scheme's patients removed themselves from their duties after being told they should do so - and on two occasions, the PHP contacted the regulators to express concern about its patients.

Psychiatrists, anaesthetists and paediatricians were the specialties most commonly attending the service.

The PHP's medical director, Dr Clare Gerada, said: "This has been a real eye-opener.

"I thought at first we'd see a bit of stress and burn-out. But it soon became apparent how troubled some of these doctors and dentists were.

"I've been surprised at the degree and extent of substance misuse that we've seen.

"They're not the easiest patients in the world - and behind them are patients who could potentially be harmed.

"They tend to present at a late stage, but very few dropped out of treatment, and most of them tend to do well."


More than 80% of the doctors and dentists who were treated for addiction were shown to have stayed abstinent afterwards - compared with about 10% of the general population.

The service tests their hair and blood for evidence of alcohol or substance abuse.

PHP has so far operated in Greater London. Talks have begun to set up similar NHS services in Newcastle and Avon.

The chief medical officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, had the idea for the service.

He said: "The problem is there in all medical workplaces around the world.

"Previously, doctors found it extremely difficult to access appropriate and confidential care.

"From the number of patients accessing PHP during its first year, it's clear there is a need for this highly specialised service."

Photograph courtesy of the Practitioner Health Programme.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blood test for schizophrenia could be ready this year

A January 20th media release from the American Chemical Society:
A blood test for diagnosing schizophrenia — the most serious form of mental illness — could be available this year, according to an article in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News, ACS' weekly newsmagazine. The disorder, with symptoms that can include hallucinations and delusional thoughts, affects more than two million people in the United States and millions more worldwide.

C&EN Senior Editor Celia Henry Arnaud mentions the test as one part of a much broader discussion of how scientists are using non-brain cells to study schizophrenia in an attempt to speed the identification of biomarkers of the disease and develop new diagnostic tests. She notes that schizophrenia does not just involve the brain, but also abnormal levels of certain proteins that appear in other parts of the body. The article highlights groundbreaking research by a group of scientists in the United Kingdom indicating that 40 percent of the chemical changes in the brains of schizophrenia patients also occur in other body parts. The U.K. scientists are studying these biomarkers in the skin, immune cells, and blood of patients to provide a real-time picture of the disease. Most previous studies, in contrast, were done with brain tissue taken from patients after death, the article notes.

The scientists have already identified several schizophrenia biomarkers in the blood and are working with a company that plans to launch a blood test for diagnosing schizophrenia in 2010. The test could help confirm diagnoses made on the basis of psychiatric evaluations and allow earlier diagnosis so that patients can be treated earlier.


"A Systemic Look at Schizophrenia"

This story is available at

Michael Bernstein
Phone: 202-872-6042

Also see:

Expression Profiling of Fibroblasts Identifies Cell Cycle Abnormalities in Schizophrenia

Photograph courtesy of the American Chemical Society.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Industry-Academic Consortium Set Up to Bolster Schizophrenia and Depression R&D

An article posted today by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News:
A newly established international industry-academic consortium is to receive funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) to develop new models and methods for the discovery of treatments for schizophrenia and depression. Led by H. Lundbeck and Kings College London, the NEWMEDS (novel methods leading to new medications in depression and schizophrenia) project plans on partnering with major academic institutions in Europe and Israel as well as global pharma companies like AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Novartis, Orion, Pfizer, Roche, Servier, and Wyeth.

The research will focus on developing new animal models for the identification of treatments for schizophrenia. It will also examine how genetic variations influence drug response. Additionally, the project aims to develop new approaches that will allow shorter and more efficient clinical trials.

The consortium believes there are currently a number of major bottlenecks preventing the translation of knowledge and research findings relating to schizophrenia and depression to the clinic. These include a lack of accurate animal models for drug discovery, a scarcity of tools and tests in healthy volunteers to provide early efficacy data, and the reliance in clinical trials on symptom-based diagnostic and statistical manual categories.

“While the biology of psychiatry has made remarkable progress, we have been slow in converting that into innovative and new medications,” points out Shitij Kapur, M.D. (pictured), at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry. “This is a joint challenge for academia and industry. NEWMEDS is a joint response. It is not only scientifically innovative, but it is also an innovation in creating a cluster of nearly 50 scientists from both sides to work together to achieve a common goal of better, safer, and more effective medicines more quickly.”

Tine Bryan Stensbl, M.D., divisional director for discovery pharmacology research at Lundbeck, adds, “NEWMEDS embodies a novel collaborative effort where companies join forces and together with academia answer scientific questions in a precompetitive environment that will form the basis of tomorrow’s medicines. This joint effort will provide novel insights that undoubtedly will be to the benefit of the patients suffering from schizophrenia and depression.”

The IMI, which will provide funding to NEWMEDS, is public-private partnership between the pharma industry’s European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations and the EU. The initiative’s goal is to promote and support Europe’s position in drug discovery and development. The IMI’s overall funding scheme has a budget of €2 billion, half of which will be provided by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme and half by EFPIA member companies.

I thank John Devlin for bringing this article to my attention.

Photo credit

Friday, January 15, 2010

Understanding What Causes Schizophrenia: A Developmental Perspective

An editorial published in the January 2010 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry:
By John H. Gilmore, M.D.

Understanding what causes schizophrenia is becoming harder and harder. We know that schizophrenia has genetic causes, since the most significant risk factor is having a first-degree relative with schizophrenia. However, most people with schizophrenia do not have an affected relative, and while the overall genetic contribution to schizophrenia may be large, the contribution of specific genes is very small. Candidate gene studies and more recent genome-wide association studies have had inconsistent results and indicate, at best, individual genes increase risk by less than 2 times—from an average population rate of 1 in 100 to 1.5 in 100. Pre- and perinatal complications and environmental exposures appear to have somewhat stronger effects than individual genes, as prenatal exposure to infection or hypoxia increases risk of schizophrenia from 1 in 100 to 2–4 in 100 (1). Schizophrenia is likely the result of an interaction between genetic risk and environmental exposures, and recent studies have attempted to describe that interaction.

To read the entire editorial, please click here.

I thank Dr. David Whitehorn for bringing this article to my attention.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coping Tips and Other Helpful Tidbits

A January 9th posting on the blog, Suicidal No More: Choosing to Live with Schizophrenia:

I've received some emails recently, from people who have read this blog, asking me for input and suggestions one what to do about their own battle with Schizophrenia or their family member's dealings with it. From time to time, over the past few years that I've been writing here, I have been asked questions, or, sometimes, told that things I've written were helpful to those readers who were new to this illness and sometimes had little hope. If I can inspire anyone to have hope, that is perhaps the greatest gift I could create with this blog. So, I thought I'd write some tips and pointers, for the uninitiated, and even for those who, like me, have been dealing with this illness for a very long time, but may have lost heart and are not sure what to do to cope.

To read the entire post, please click here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Teaching police officers about mental illness..why?

The Top Ten Reasons To Make Sure Everybody’s Got Basic Training For Working With Individuals With Mental Illness

To read this article by Dr. Dorothy Cotton (pictured), please click here and scroll up to the top of the webpage that appears.

Also see:

The Police / Mental Health Liaison Website

Photo credit

Monday, January 4, 2010

safeTALK - Suicide Alertness for Everyone

Friday, February 12th!

An email recieved on December 23rd, 2009, from Keith Brumwell, Co-Manager, Canadian Mental Health Association, Halifax-Dartmouth Branch:

Learn four basic steps to recognize persons with thoughts of suicide and connect them with suicide helping resources. safeTALK three-hour training can help you make a difference.

Why come to safeTALK?

Most people with thoughts of suicide invite help. Often these opportunities are missed, dismissed, or avoided — leaving people more alone and at greater risk. safeTALK training prepares you to help by using TALK (Tell, Ask, Listen and KeepSafe) to identify and engage people with thoughts of suicide and to connect them with further help and care.

Who should attend safeTALK?

safeTALK is for everyone who wants to help prevent suicide: front line workers, clergy, volunteers, parents, youth*, teachers, law enforcement, … anyone who wants to be a suicide alert helper. safeTALK is brief, affordable and internationally recognized. safeTALK is for anyone age 15 and older. This is an excellent course and is a life skill anyone can use.

*Younger persons may attend with the consent of parents or guardian.

How can I get safeTALK training?

There will be a course held on Friday, February 12th, at the Bloomfield Center, 2786 Agricola Street, Halifax, from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, and the same course repeated from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

The cost of the course is $30. Certificates are given to those completing this training.

The facilitator will be Keith Brumwell, a registered trainer with Livingworks, a safeTALK trainer, and a Master Trainer who has facilitated over forty ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) courses. Keith works with individuals living with mental illness, he has extensive experience in suicide intervention, and working with persons at risk for suicide.

Please contact Keith at if you are interested and he will provide you with registration information.

You may also get further information on safeTALK by visiting

I took the liberty to edit the email a bit.