Sunday, October 23, 2011

Memoir About Schizophrenia Spurs Others to Come Forward

An article published in today's edition of the The New York Times:
Researchers have long wondered how some people with schizophrenia can manage their symptoms well enough to build full, successful lives. But such people do not exactly line up to enroll in studies.

For one thing, they are almost always secretive about their diagnosis. For another, volunteering for a study would add yet another burden to their stressful lives.

But that is beginning to change, partly because of the unlikely celebrity of a fellow sufferer. In 2007, after years of weighing the possible risks, Elyn R. Saks [pictured], a professor of law at the University of Southern California, published a memoir of her struggle with schizophrenia, “The Center Cannot Hold.” It became an overnight sensation in mental health circles and a best seller, and it won Dr. Saks a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award.

For psychiatric science, the real payoff was her speaking tour. At mental health conferences here and abroad, Dr. Saks, 56, attracted not only doctors and therapists, but also high-functioning people with the same diagnosis as herself — a fellowship of fans, some of whom have volunteered to participate in studies.

“People in the audience would stand up and self-disclose, or sometimes I would be on a panel with someone” who had a similar experience, Dr. Saks said. She also received scores of e-mails from people who had read the book and wanted to meet for lunch. She told many of them about the possibility of participating in a research project.

She now has two studies going, one in Los Angeles and another in San Diego, tracking the routines and treatment decisions of these extraordinary people. The movie producer Jerry Weintraub has optioned the book.

It has been a remarkable response, considering that the book was almost abandoned. Dr. Saks surveyed friends and colleagues for years before publishing it and got very mixed advice. Her husband was against it; the risks were too high. Academic colleagues warned her that coming out with a disorder as serious as schizophrenia could only harm her. “You want to be known as the schizophrenic with a job?” one said.

Her friend Stephen Behnke, director of ethics at the American Psychological Association, was supportive of her decision. “I remember talking about it just on the cusp of when she was going to send off the manuscript,” Dr. Behnke said. “I said that we needed to sit down and make sure she was ready for this. It was like she was about to jump off of a cliff.”

Jump she did. With the MacArthur money, she founded the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy and Ethics to study mental health and society. She is now working on another book, “Mad Women: A Most Uncommon Friendship,” with the author Terri Cheney, who has written about her struggles with bipolar disorder.

“I was very lucky, being in academia, where people have been very accepting of this,” Dr. Saks said. “Most people struggling to manage a severe mental illness do not have the luxury to do what I did.”
Image credit

Also see:

A High-Profile Executive Job as Defense Against Mental Ills

Changing the face of Schizophrenia

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

FREE - Get your GED - Spryfield

Please click on the image to magnify it.

From an October 18th email received from Chebucto Connections:
The GED class is a go at the Captain William Spry Community Centre and we are recruiting students. Participants should be strong Level 2 students who are available and can commit to classes 4 days per week: Monday to Thursday / 9:30 am - 3:30 pm for 20 weeks. Those who call will be assessed for eligibility and classes will begin as soon as we have a small group.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Do you value the work of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia?

We hope you do.

Your donation will help us to continue our important and crucial work. To make a donation, please click here. Tax-deductible receipts are issued immediately.

Or send a cheque to:

Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia
Room B-23, Purdy Building
P.O. Box 1004, Station Main
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
B2Y 3Z9

A photograph taken during the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia’s
Annual General Meeting held September 24th, 2011, in Springhill, Nova Scotia (please click on the photograph to enlarge it)

The Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia is working very hard to improve the quality of life for those affected by schizophrenia and psychosis through education, support programs, influencing public policy, and encouraging research.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Psychiatrists Outline Plan to Tackle Stigma and Discrimination in Medicine: New Paper Released at Annual Conference of Canadian Psychiatric Association in Vancouver

An October 13th media release from the Canadian Psychiatric Association:

VANCOUVER, Oct. 13, 2011 /CNW/ - Today the Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) made public a paper that outlines how psychiatrists can tackle stigma and discrimination in medicine.

"Stigma and discrimination are one of the primary reasons that the one in five Canadians who will experience a mental illness in their lifetime either don't get help or delay getting help until their situation worsens," says Dr. Susan Abbey, author of the paper and member of the CPA Stigma and Discrimination Working Group. "People can recover from mental illness but until we address these issues, efforts to provide better mental health care will continue to be hampered," she adds.

Like their fellow Canadians, physicians, including psychiatrists, have been socialized with the same stigmatizing views towards people with mental illness. "Physicians are a reflection of their society when it comes to stigmatizing attitudes but it's devastating when patients who need help encounter such attitudes," explains Dr. Manon Charbonneau, Chair of the CPA Stigma and Discrimination Working Group. "That's why CPA chose to focus its efforts on tackling this issue in the house of medicine. As physicians and psychiatrists it is our responsibility."

Children and youth and health professionals are the two initial priority areas for the Mental Health Commission of Canada's anti-stigma, anti-discrimination initiative.

The three-prong approach on how physicians can reduce stigma presented by the paper can be summed up in three words, Protest, Educate and Contact. The CPA paper invites all psychiatrists to lead by example and protest stigma and discrimination when they encounter it, use education to counteract it and promote direct contact with people with lived experiences with mental illness.

"We need to protest discrimination at every level from the small injustices we witness in daily practice, in our clinics and hospitals, in our medical schools up to the federal and provincial level," says Dr. Abbey. The lack of funding for mental health is striking. While mental illnesses constitute more than 15 per cent of the disease burden in Canada, in the 2003-2004 fiscal year mental health care received only six per cent of total health funding—below the level in most European and developed countries.

Education is the second key to preventing stigma and making stigma it visible. "It's relatively easy to spot discrimination but it's harder to identify stigmatizing attitudes. Often people don't even realize they have these attitudes," notes Dr. Charbonneau.

The paper proposes education initiatives at many levels including making stigma and discrimination part of the formal medical school curricula, continuing physician education on the issue, talking about stigma with patients and engaging fellow physician organizations to effectively address discriminatory behaviour against psychiatric patients where they seek care—the emergency department, on inpatient medical and surgical wards, in walk-in clinics and when they see their family doctor.

Contact, the third pillar of the strategy, is crucial. "Research tells us that direct contact with people with mental illness who have recovered is a powerful tool that effects lasting change in attitudes," notes Dr. Charbonneau. The paper encourages medical schools to promote and teach direct personal contact with patients, both inside and outside the clinical context. It also advocates patients, as experts in their own care, be actively involved in their diagnosis and treatment and that patient advice be sought when new treatment and clinical structures are being planned.

"Tackling stigma and discrimination towards people with mental illness is the key to better mental healthcare. Canadian society and Canada's physician community efforts are in their infancy and much work remains to be done, but it can be done," says Dr. Charbonneau.

Read the position paper online:

The Canadian Psychiatric Association is the national voice for Canada's 4,100 psychiatrists and more than 600 psychiatric residents. Founded in 1951, the CPA is dedicated to promoting an environment that fosters excellence in the provision of clinical care, education and research.

For further information:

Helene Cote
Bold emphasis is mine.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to gain insight into schizophrenia and other mental illnesses

From the YouTube posting:
Bill MacPhee takes Don's question that asks how someone develops insight into their illness. Bill talks about how people think that they are alone, but once they are educated and see the big picture, they will gain insight into their illness.
Bill MacPhee lives with schizophrenia.

Also see:

SZ Magazine


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

More than daily bread

An article published in the October 10th edition of The Chronicle Herald:
At Stone Hearth Bakery, people restart their lives, build life skills

By Holly Fraughton

THE SMELL OF FRESHLY BAKED BREAD, bagels and sweet loaves wafts through the air in the lower level of The Village at Bayers Road shopping centre. If you follow your nose, the aroma will lead straight to the Stone Hearth Bakery.

Many Nova Scotians will recognize the brand. The kosher bakery has been producing freshly baked bread since 1982, but what many don’t know is the story behind the bakery.

Stone Hearth is just one of the programs operated under the MetroWorks umbrella, a non-profit organization that has been offering training since the late 1970s to people who face barriers to employment.

Chuck Weatherbee [pictured], 40, of Dartmouth, has worked at the bakery for over five years. Today, he is responsible for packaging and distributing the finished product. Bakery manager Shawn Patterson points out that Chuck is also their quality assurance monitor, making sure that every loaf is perfect.

"He’s the guy that makes sure the customers get the good stuff," Patterson said.

Weatherbee was diagnosed with schizophrenia 19 years ago when he was just 21. Before he found Stone Hearth, he had only done seasonal work, picking fruit.

Weatherbee had just finished a six-week, day-hospital stay when one of the nurses suggested he look into Stone Hearth’s program.

For Weatherbee, working at the bakery has created structure in his life and offers a sense of fulfilment. "Now, I’m to the point that I’m training other people, so that makes me feel good. It makes me a little sad when they leave, but it makes me feel good that I can actually pass skills on and help somebody out!"

The bakery used to be in north-end Halifax, but moved in September 2010 after MetroWorks centralized its operations to The Village at Bayers Road. The new state-of-the-art facility is perfect for training bakers and has been very good for business, allowing them to expand their product line and develop new working relationships.

"Because of our new facility and equipment, community colleges noticed us; they’ve put people here on placements, and then we’ve been able to hire those people, and then they’ve got the experience to expand our product list. It’s just a complete chain reaction," Patterson said.

That chain reaction has also been felt by participants.

"They’re very proud of their products and they’ll go to the grocery stores on their time off and straighten out the shelves," Patterson said with a smile.

Soon, more delicious aromas will also be emanating from the kitchen of the Stone Hearth Bistro.

MetroWorks is getting ready to expand their food service training program, opening a 7,000-square-foot restaurant in The Village at Bayers Road in late October. The bistro will offer participants hands-on training in a restaurant setting, preparing them for future employment in kitchens throughout the province.

The idea for the restaurant evolved out of research into Halifax’s current labour market, and will build on MetroWorks’ existing food service program, which is currently largely classroom-based. They plan to start with a class of 12 participants, and by the first quarter of 2012, have between 36 and 40 participants working in the bistro.

The bistro will also feature a small market section, where Stone Hearth can showcase bakery products and, Patterson hopes, the story behind Stone Hearth.

"I go to farmers markets on the weekends . . . and sell our bread and I’m always educating people that, ‘You can buy our product and support a program that’s helping people either restart their lives or help them better themselves,’ " Patterson said.

Stone Hearth currently sells to large retail commercial customers, local restaurants, and distributes outside of Halifax through Canada Bread. Since moving to the new facility, they’ve been able to take on more clients, and Patterson estimates the business from restaurants has doubled, as well.

"It’s a not-for-profit, but it is a business. . . . All the money that we make goes back into programming, so the more money we make, the more money we can invest in other programs," Patterson explained.

The main objective at the bakery and new restaurant is to build skills. Participants work alongside paid professionals, and many also take courses on job searching and resume writing.

Not all will go on to pursue careers as bakers or as kitchen staff. Some will realize that they want to go back to school, instead.

"Some people may never work, but to maybe learn to get along with people is a huge success for them. So each person’s success is measured differently," Patterson said.

But for those who do go on to get jobs, the economic spinoff can be significant.

"When we start to measure some of our impacts on the local economy and local tax burden, if you can take someone off of assistance that is costing real dollars, tens of thousands of dollars a year, and move that person from being entirely dependent on the public purse to a taxpayer, it’s huge!" pointed out Mark Lever, MetroWorks’ president and CEO.

MetroWorks does look to various levels of government for capital funding, but the idea is to work towards creating self-sustaining programs, like the bakery.

And Lever is quick to point out that they aren’t looking for charity: "We recognize that the product has to be, first and foremost, second to none and the best it can be."

Photograph by Adrien Veczan / The Chronicle Herald

Monday, October 10, 2011

World Mental Health Day - A Revolution, Simple

An article posted today by the UK edition of the Huffington Post:
By Professor Richard Gray [pictured]

"If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse." Henry Ford

To enable people with mental health problems to lead full and productive lives, we need a revolution in care and treatment.

Today is world mental health day. Looking at mental health practice right now it feels sadly devoid of the revolutionary, imaginative and creative thinking that we take for granted in so many other areas of our lives. In a very real sense the outcomes for patients with long term mental illnesses like schizophrenia are getting worse, not better.

This is a tragedy; mental illness is painful and distressing. It is hard to imagine the torment that someone with schizophrenia experiences when they hear voices telling them that they are evil and deserve to die. To understand the pain of these symptoms we have to recognise that this is their reality and it is absolutely terrifying. These are symptoms of an illness, an illness where there is dysfunction in the patient's brain.

Medicines are essential to alleviate the distress and torment of psychotic symptoms. Reducing the intensity of the delusion or pushing the voices into the background antipsychotic drugs rarely completely eliminate symptoms and are certainly no cure.

In many respects, the medicines we have now are little different to those like chlorpromazine, that we used in the 1950s. The new generation of antipsychotic drugs are more refined and cause fewer side effects, but fundamentally they work in the same way. Metaphorically drug researchers have bred slightly faster horses, there has been no great jump forward.

Where will new treatment advances come from?

There is a sense that investment, both intellectually and financially, in the development of new drug treatments has faded and shifted; in part because of the negative public perception drugs for mental illness have, and an increase in demand for talking treatments as an alternative to pills.

Sensational media stories of antidepressants making patients suicidal are ill informed but attention grabbing and have contributed to our negative image. Even among mental health professionals there is widespread "anti medication" sentiment. A senior and influential Clinical Psychologist suggested to me recently that pharmaceutical industry research was "little more than propaganda".

Do psychological (talking) treatments represent the paradigm shift from horse to car that we need? I want to argue that our current obsession with improving access to psychological treatments reflects society's Freudian belief that mental illness is located in the mind and not the brain and can be sorted out by talking.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is probably the most popular talking treatment.

Researchers have demonstrated that when delivered by a skilled therapist, CBT is as effective as antidepressant medication in the treatment of depression. Against schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, CBT also seems to be effective for example in helping patients cope with voices. But, and it is an important but, CBT only works (in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), if patients are already on medication.

CBT, like all talking treatments, are complex interventions that need to be provided by skilled therapists. The problem; there simply aren't enough to meet demand and there never will be. A major initiative to improve access to psychological therapies (IAPT) consumed £170 million of new money.

Three and a half thousand new therapists have been trained and over 600,000 patients have entered the programme. Impressive; but rather than receiving the 20 sessions of CBT necessary for the treatment to work patients on average get just 3. Unless patients get 20 sessions the therapy can't work; this is what the research tells us. So whilst CBT is effective it is not the mental health equivalent of the Henry Ford's Model-T [pictured] providing effective psychological treatment for everyone.

Mental health practice is littered with countless examples of effective but complex interventions that work in theory but not in practice. The reason that they don't work is that they are too complex. Perhaps rather than focusing on ever more complex intervention we should consider simple intervention that can be reliably provided to all patients with mental illness. In a time of austerity making sure that everything we do really counts makes a lot of sense.

Back to medication. Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia , bipolar disorder and quite often depression, are long term conditions that require patients to stick with their medication, often indefinitely.

Whilst we need new treatments we could get much more out of the medicines we already have. Virtually every patient with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder misses doses of medication; this increases the risk of relapse and the return of painful and distressing psychotic symptoms. In fact the single biggest cause of relapse is that patients stop taking medication. There are many simple things that we can do to enhance adherence to treatment. I passionately believe we should be more positive about promoting the benefits of medication to our patients and their families.

For many patients, those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder particularly, medication is a foundation to effective treatment and we should do everything to make sure that they stick with treatment. This is perhaps one of the most important things we do as mental health professionals.

There are other things we can do to help patients manage their medication; help them make choices about which drug will suit them best; closely monitor the effects and side effects of medicines, offer long acting injections rather than daily pills, use mobile phone text prompts to remind patients to take pills, prescribing a tablet that can be taken once once rather than four times a day. Simple things that work and help patients stick with treatment.

Ever more complex treatments that can never be scaled up to meet the need within the population seems to me like flogging, if it's not extending a metaphor to far, dead horse.

Our customers (patients) want greater access to talking treatments. I am far from convinced that the investment in psychological therapies has reaped the rewards that were promised when the IAPT programme was launched.

We need new medications and this requires intellectual as well as financial investment. When Henry Ford launched the Model-T, when Apple launched the iPad, these were leaps of imagination.

I want to argue for a simple revolution; we stop doing the complex badly and focus of doing simple things exceptionally well. But my real plea on world mental health day is to stop listening quite so much and start imagining.

Now more than ever we need real invention in mental health care and treatment.
Image credit

Model-T image credit

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mental Health Commission struggles to find balance in developing strategy

An article published in the October 8th edition of the National Post:
By Joseph Brean

As Senator Roméo Dallaire [pictured], Canada’s best-known traumatized soldier, launches the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta’s Circle on Mental Health & Addiction and Queen’s University unveils its own mental health commission in response to a series of suicides, both may cast a cautionary eye on the travails of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, a 10-year, $130-million federal project.

Since a draft of its national strategy on mental health was leaked this summer, the agency has been squirming under accusations of dysfunction, anti-psychiatry bias and neglect of the most serious mental illnesses.

Critics point out the 30-page document mentions “recovery” 67 times and “support” 125 times, but there is no reference to “psychiatry.” Or “schizophrenia” or “bipolar.”

In a “letter to Canadians” last month, Louise Bradley, the agency’s chief executive, promised to “correct” the strategy before its planned release next year, because “the current draft does not sufficiently reflect the essential role neuroscience, treatment and psychiatry have to play.”

In doing so, the MHCC is trying to strike a balance between the two major ideologies of mental health: empowerment, based in social science, in which recovery is seen as a personal growth experience; and psychiatry, based in neuroscience, in which recovery sometimes must be imposed against a delusional will.

At its most extreme, this clash of ideologies turns on the question of whether the fundamental problem of mental illness lies in the brain itself, or in the stigma imposed by society.

At stake is a key part of the MHCC’s dual mandate — to develop a national strategy on mental health — which will influence the allocation of research funding and the priorities provinces set on this unique issue, spanning health care and social policy.

The other part of its mandate is to combat the stigma of mental illness through public outreach and professional advocacy, which have largely focused on health-care providers, often the first point of contact between the mentally ill and the government.

As the strategy gets revised, the ideological balance continues to elude the MHCC, although a spokesman said the flawed draft is “relatively close,” and the Commission stands by it “fundamentally.”

Focused on “recovery,” the draft strategy highlights suicide prevention, self-directed care, improvement over cure, and calls for an end to the seclusion and restraint of psychiatric patients.

However, its focus on health promotion and prevention, including the role of employers in creating healthy workplaces, has fuelled criticism that this is not a strategy about mental illness, but rather mental wellness.

“They’ve stolen the word ‘recovery,’ ” said Herschel Hardin, president of the North Shore Schizophrenia Society in B.C., whose latest bulletin accuses the commission of hiding behind upbeat euphemisms and claims “those who understand severe mental illness no longer take [the MHCC] seriously — except to regard it as a menace.”

He said the agency exaggerates the notion recovery cannot be imposed by others and must be a self-directed personal achievement.

“For the seriously ill, that’s a small part of recovery that comes after treatment for the illness itself, which is part of recovery, which requires a lot of not just support but structure, provided by others,” he said.

“Here [at the MHCC] we have a bunch of people who really haven’t done the homework that they had to do, and buried the most important considerations in bureaucratic fluff and vague wording.”

More than most health issues, vocabulary clouds this debate.

Patients are recast as “survivors,” “consumers,” or “experts by experience” on the one side, and a schizophrenic’s lack of insight medicalized into “anosognosia” on the other.

“The idea of recovery in mental illness circles has a certain meaning that is not translated well for the general public,” said Bill Honer, head of the department of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and a clinical expert on schizophrenia.

It is not like remission in cancer, in which the disease metaphorically retreats, or recovery from a cold, in which it disappears completely. Recovery in mental health, as the MHCC describes it, is an orientation, a way of life.

The danger, Prof. Honer said, is that a strategy in which individuals must guide themselves to recovery could be unfair to those who are unable to do so, because they cannot understand their own illness.

“On a strict interpretation [of that strategy], we risk not fulfilling our social responsibilities,” he said.

At the same time, there is rampant confusion about these words and what they imply, he said. “The social constructs of labelling and diagnosis are real, but it’s not the same as what we do [in psychiatry]. Having a diagnosis is not a bad thing. That’s how we work. But labelling and stigma are, and that’s how society works.”

Ms. Bradley refused to be interviewed, but strategic advisor Howard Chodos, who prepared the draft strategy, said it was developed through face-to-face meetings and an online survey.

The “vast majority” of participants in consultations were “supportive of the overall thrust of the strategy,” he said, but the review process now includes “some of more public discussion that’s taken place once the draft reached a wider audience than we originally intended.”

“Was everybody included? No. Did we have the resources to do that at this time? No,” he added.

“But we felt confident that we would get the kind of feedback from that group that would enable us to strengthen the document.”

Mr. Chodos acknowledged the criticism and said the draft’s language “is not where we would like it to be, in terms of connecting with people, resonating with people in a way that will help to galvanize support for the document.”

But he rejects the notion that the focus on consensus obscures the hard cases.

“What I don’t accept is that there is a fundamental opposition between those two elements,” he said.

“We can find a way to have that balance, and we’re not sacrificing one on the altar of the other.”
Image credit

Also see:

Mental Illness Awareness Week: Canada Stands Ready for Positive Change

Friday, October 7, 2011

He Wants To Stop Taking His Medication

Dr. Xavier Amador has posted a new video on his website:

Our son is 22 years old & diagnosed with schizophrenia. He first became ill at 18. He’s been hospitalized many time, 5 times within the last year. He’s also been arrested for miscellaneous crimes due to his thought disorder and delusions about what people are doing to him. He was given a guardian by the state last Dec and put in a long term care facility for 6 months and mandated medication. He was release several weeks ago, and immediately stopped taking medication. He’s all along said he does not feel he has schizophrenia, and will not take medication. He’s said he feels he has an anger problem. He does continue to see his psychiatrist. We see our son weekly, have a good relationship with him now, but are very afraid of when he gets ill again. Do you have any suggestions? – Carroll and her Husband from Alameda, CA

Dr. Amador's Answer

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mental Illness Awareness Week: opening Canadians’ eyes

A letter to the editor published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By Stephen Ayer (pictured)

Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 2-8, is an annual national public education campaign designed to help open the eyes of Canadians to the reality of mental illness. The week was established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association. It is now co-ordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health in co-operation with its member organizations, including the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, as well many other supporters across Canada.

As a kick-off event for the week, the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS) presented a special screening last Sunday of the movie The Soloist, based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a musician who develops schizophrenia and becomes homeless. The screenplay by Susannah Grant is based on the book The Soloist by Steve Lopez, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times.

The same day, the society also highlighted the recovery journey of Laura Burke, a young Nova Scotian who lives with schizophrenia, by screening Superhero — A Visual Poem, a documentary short film featuring Ms. Burke’s spoken word poetry. Ms. Burke was honoured during Mental Illness Awareness Week in Ottawa last year as a 2010 Champion of Mental Health.

Today, the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia is partnering with other local mental health organizations and supporters to present the Fourth Annual Festival of Hope, a celebration of hope, healing and recovery. This free event takes place from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Olympic Hall, 2304 Hunter St. (corner of Cunard and Windsor in Halifax).

The core belief of the SSNS is that people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia can live a life of meaning and purpose. The society’s focus is to promote the goal that each individual will be able to return to a quality of life which meets each person’s own perception of needs and expectations.

The vision of the SSNS is to reach all Nova Scotians who are directly or indirectly affected by schizophrenia — to focus on the individual, not the illness, to promote wellness and recovery, and to reduce the stigma and discrimination so often associated with mental illness.

The society’s mission is to improve the quality of life for those affected by schizophrenia through education, support programs, influencing public policy, and supporting research. The SSNS provides a community-based network of knowledgeable and dedicated volunteers whose personal experience with the illness allows them to share their stories of hope and recovery with people affected by schizophrenia for the first time.

Stephen Ayer is executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia. He lives with a mental illness and experienced homelessness in the 1990s. Dr. Ayer is a 2009 recipient of an Inspiring Lives Award from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia and the CMHA — Nova Scotia Division.
Photograph by Ryan Taplin / Metro Halifax

New videos featuring Dr. Xavier Amador

Dr. Xavier Amador has links to two new videos posted on his website:

2011 Nordic Psychiatry Academy Interview with Dr. Amador

"I am not Sick, I don't need help!" presentation at the 2011 Nordic Psychiatry Academy

To view Dr. Amador's presentation at the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia's 2005 Annual Conference, please click here.

To order the book, I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help, please click here or here.

Also see the following videos:

Anosognosia 1 of 2 (Recorded July 3, 2010)

Anosognosia 2 of 2 (Recorded July 3, 2010)

Women & Wellness Nova Scotia


Thursday, March 22nd, 2012!

6:00 pm to 9:30 pm

Please click on the image to magnify it.

RSVP by contacting the CMHA Nova Scotia Division office at 902.466.6600 or by sending an email to

Also see:

Jessie Close

BringChange2Mind website

BringChange2Mind Facebook page

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mental Illness Awareness Week: Canada Stands Ready for Positive Change

An opinion piece posted on October 4th by the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
Op-Ed to coincide with Mental Illness Awareness Week

By Louise Bradley (pictured)

I have worked in the mental health field in Canada for over three decades, and I can say without exaggeration that never before have I seen such a high level of awareness about mental illness in this country. At last, mental health and mental illness are taking centre stage.

From coast to coast to coast, Canadians are stepping forward to talk publicly about their own personal experiences with mental health problems and mental illnesses, and by taking this courageous action, they are making a real difference to countless others.

In September, after 17-year-old high school student Chris Howell, who had been bullied since grade school, committed suicide, 150 friends and family gathered in front his school to mourn his loss and call for an end to bullying. “I just want to stop it,” Chris’s mother Judy told the Hamilton Spectator. “I don’t want anyone else to have to pay.”

For their part, after their son Jack, a first-year student at Queen’s University, took his own life last year, Eric and Sandra Windeler established The Jack Project, a national program to help Canadian youth achieve optimal mental health as they transition from late high school into their college, university or independent living years.

And then there are people like Harmony Brown, Jeremy Bennett, Roberta Price, Shana Calixte, and Steeve Hurdle, who are this year’s “faces” in the Face Mental Illness Campaign coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health as part of this week’s Mental Illness Awareness Week national public education campaign.

By sharing their personal stories, these five, too, are helping to end stigma and bring mental illness out of the shadows forever.

Today, hundreds of organizations across the country are working tirelessly to raise public awareness about mental health problems and mental illnesses through advocacy and by providing services and supports to those in need.

Canadian companies, including Bell Canada, RBC, Great-West Life and Canada Post, are investing millions of dollars to raise awareness about mental health, improve children’s and workplace mental health, and support organizations on the mental health front lines.

Governments across the country are also addressing mental health in more meaningful ways with new strategies, action plans and investments.

Thousands more individual Canadians are empowering themselves by learning how to spot the signs of mental health problems in family, friends and even themselves through courses being offered by Mental Health First Aid Canada. To date, over 42,000 Canadians have become mental health first aiders.

It is little wonder we are seeing such a ground swell of action and support for mental health.

Canadians have woken up to the fact that ignoring mental health is detrimental to individuals, families, and communities, as well as our society and economy as a whole.

They are becoming aware that there is no health without mental health, and that no one is immune from mental illnesses. This year alone, more than seven million Canadians—that is one in five people—will experience a mental illness personally, and in turn, this will impact family, friends and colleagues.

We are making progress in changing attitudes about mental health, but there is still much work to be done.

We need to be doing more to improve access to mental health services, decrease stigma, support the needs of families caring for ill relatives, invest in research spanning the full spectrum of issues relating to mental health and mental illness, promote mental health, and prevent mental illness so that every Canadian has the opportunity to achieve the best possible mental health and well-being. All this and more will be addressed in the first-ever Mental Health Strategy for Canada, which the Mental Health Commission of Canada will release next year.

What can you do to help?

To start, I urge all Canadians to pledge to the cause of mental health, not just during this Mental Illness Awareness Week, but 365 days a year, by supporting a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a neighbour living with a mental health problem or mental illness and helping them build a better life for themselves. And potentially everyone will have a role to play in bringing the Mental Health Strategy for Canada to life and ensuring it has maximum impact.

Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to build a society that values and promotes mental health and helps people living with mental health problems and mental illnesses to lead meaningful and productive lives.

This will require some fundamental changes to our systems of mental health care and also to our collective way of thinking about mental illness, but if the past year is anything to go by, Canadians are ready to take on this challenge and ready, willing and able to work together to achieve positive change.

Louise Bradley is President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Image credit

Also see:

Housing first for the mentally ill: Former MP wants changes to assist those in need

Mind Games - How should we define mental illness?

An article written by Kurt Kleiner and published in the Autumn 2011 edition of U of T Magazine:

Mind Games

Doctors have been trying for decades to classify mental illnesses. So why do precise definitions still elude us?

Theories of human psychology influence not only how we treat mental illness, but how we understand ourselves. The ancient Greek notion of the four humours remains with us in our idea of sanguine or phlegmatic personalities. Freud’s ideas gave us unconscious motivations, egomaniacs, narcissists and more.

These days, if you know someone who’s suffered from major depression, or think you may have social anxiety disorder, or know a child with attention deficit disorder, you’ve been influenced by a more modern psychological viewpoint – one put forth by the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which describes all recognized mental disorders. Psychiatrists in North America, and also elsewhere in the world, rely on the DSM to make their diagnoses and communicate them with others in the health-care profession.

But the manual’s immense influence is a problem says Edward Shorter, the Hannah Professor of the History of Medicine at U of T. He thinks that many of the disorders described in the DSM are not actual diseases discovered through the scientific method. Instead, they resulted from political deal-making among different factions in the professional community, each with conflicting ideas about causes and treatments of psychological problems. The result, he says, is a description of mental disorders with too little relation to real diseases.

In Shorter’s opinion, the manual sometimes pathologizes perfectly normal behaviour, while actual diseases get lost in a thicket of non-existent syndromes and disorders. And as the association works through a new revision of the DSM, it looks like things will only get worse, he says.

“The DSM continues to run off the rails in terms of its ability to come up with true disease entities that exist in nature,” Shorter says. “The problem is that the document itself is profoundly unscientific.”

Shorter is a social historian of medicine. He has written books on obstetrics and gynecology, the doctor-patient relationship, psychosomatic illness and psychiatry. His books include Written in the Flesh: A History of Desire, and Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness (which he wrote with psychiatrist David Healy). One reviewer, Dr. Nassir Ghaemi of Tufts Medical Center in Boston, called his A History of Psychiatry from the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac (John Wiley & Sons, 1997) “the best single volume to read on that topic.”

To read the entire article, please click here.

Illustration by The Heads of State.

Reprinted with written permission.

Correspondence to:

U of T Magazine
J. Robert S. Prichard Alumni House
21 King's College Circle
Toronto, Ontario,
M5S 3J3

I thank Rev. Dr. Roger Cann for bringing this article to my attention.

Mental health group ‘hard at it’: Minister

An article published in yesterday's edition of Metro Halifax:
Health minister likes what she’s seen in mental health strategy

Liberal health critic says it’s time to focus on mental health issues

By Alex Boutilier

Nova Scotia’s minister of health says she expects a provincial mental health and addictions strategy by the end of the year.

Maureen MacDonald [pictured] said yesterday the volunteer working group putting together the strategy requested an extension of 30 days over their previous deadline of the end of September.

“The working group are hard at it, and I’m anticipating I should have this strategy certainly by the end of the year,” she said.

MacDonald said she was pleased at the pace of the working group.

“They’re a group of volunteers, they’re doing this on their own time, and I totally appreciate how much time it’s taken,” said MacDonald.

“They did a public consultation, they’ve seen more than 1,200 people participate in that process, they have some commissioned research.... It’s a big piece of work, and I’m very much looking forward to when they complete it.”

Some of the preliminary themes have been shared with MacDonald, and she said they look “great.”

MacDonald was responding to a call from the opposition Liberals, who demanded an update on the strategy’s progress.

Liberal Health Critic Leo Glavine said he suspects the strategy won’t see the light of day until 2012.

“There’s such a great need to get this out, to get it acted upon,” said Glavine.

“We’re hearing more and more from the school system and the early adult population that have major mental health needs … and we hope the strategy is going to address some of those.”

Upcoming Workshops at the Self-Help Connection


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The Self-Help Connection

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chance encounters can change the world

An article published in today's edition of The Leaf-Chronicle:

Students listen to Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, as he speaks at Austin Peay State University Thursday night. Lopez wrote a book called The Soloist that was required reading for APSU's The Peay Read program / THE LEAF-CHRONICLE/ROBERT SMITH

Author Steve Lopez tells APSU, 'one person can make a difference'

By Karen Parr-Moody

The Dunn Center at Austin Peay State University was filled to the rafters with a crowd that included students wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with the words "The Soloist."

This sea of red was the class of 2015, which gathered Wednesday evening to hear Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez speak about his book, The Soloist. In it he chronicles his relationship with Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a formerly homeless, Juilliard-trained musician who has schizophrenia.

The speaking engagement was the culmination of The Peay Read, a program in which students of the introductory "First-Year Experience" class read a common book.

Prior to Lopez's keynote address, a group of 11 students joined him for a special dinner. Each had won a spot in an essay competition that included 1,200 entries. One winner, Nathan Borrero, said he was impressed that Lopez developed a friendship with a homeless man he met at random.

"That's not something you see every day," Borrero said. "Most people who pass a homeless person wouldn't give them a second thought."

In a variation on the theme, winner Destynee Horner said, "I was blown away by how he wasn't trying to gain anything for himself. He was truly concerned about Nathaniel's well-being."

Winner Lindsey Gudal focused on the transformative power of music in her essay.

"Music is the universal language, as corny as that sounds," she said. "I just think that's beautiful."

Samuel Cupp also wrote about music's healing.

"Music is ... the foundation of his soul," Cupp said of Ayers. "When (Ayers) loses everything else ... music keeps him sane."

When 7 p.m. arrived, Dixie Dennis introduced the award-winning students. Then university president Tim Hall took the stage, quoting Socrates from Plato's Apology: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Hall then said, "I'm here to warn you that the examined life is a dangerous life ... dangerous, at least, if what you want to do is stay uncommitted and uninvolved and unattached."

The examined life is what pulls a person in to help another person, Hall explained, calling Lopez "an example of the perils and rewards of the examined life."

Lopez then took the stage.

"What a great T-shirt that is," he said of the red "The Soloist" shirts. "I got one actually a little earlier tonight and I'm gonna take that to a good friend of mine."

He was referencing "Mr. Ayers," which is how he went on to refer to the gifted musician throughout his speech.

"He loves wearing 'Soloist' T-shirts and hats," Lopez said.

Lopez also thanked the students who "made a commitment to this book" and complimented the winners of the essay contest, saying "I'm so flattered and honored and impressed by the work they did."

He then relayed his astonishment that it has now been seven years since he first met Ayers on a Los Angeles street, noting with incredulity the various places it has taken him, both literally and figuratively.

Early on in the hour-plus speech Lopez confessed: "I would love to be able to tell you that I did something out of the goodness of my heart, but I didn't."

He said that writing a newspaper column, which he has done for 35 years, "means you live in desperation," comparing the deadline pressure to that of owing a teacher an assignment. When Lopez first heard Ayers playing a 2-string violin, he thought it might make for a good column. He couldn't get the "compelling image of a guy playing his heart out on a violin" out of his head.

What followed was a one-man investigation into the squalid streets of Los Angeles' Skid Row, which at that time were "home" to thousands of homeless people, many mentally ill.

After Lopez published his first column about Ayers, sympathetic readers sent in six violins and two cellos for the former Juilliard prodigy. As he wrote more columns, his personal life became more intertwined with that of Ayers. Throughout his narration of the key events, Lopez sprinkled in inspirational invocations to the mostly student audience. He urged students to open their eyes to the many opportunities to be had.

"You don't know who might change your life forever," he said.

The speech led into a question and answer session, during which Lopez informed the audience that Ayers continues to live in a Los Angeles apartment, surrounded by musical instruments, rather than on the street.

One of the last things Lopez told the audience was "I get very tired of people congratulating me, because I have to remind them that this gentleman has done as much for me — more for me — than I have done for him. And I tell them that what this story tells us — and I'd like for you to keep this in minds, students — is that one person can make a difference ... there's grace in giving. It's a great privilege to (attend) a school like this. Think of giving something back. Each one of us has the power to make a difference in someone's life. Mr. Ayers has made a difference in mine."

Karen Parr-Moody, 245-0203
Features Reporter

Also see:

REVIEW: Wellspring of human beauty sprung in 'The Soloist'

11 APSU first-year students, middle college student named essay winners

Nathaniel Ayers plays the Foshay Learning Center

Steve Lopez on Nathaniel Anthony Ayers

Mr. Lopez Meets Mr. Ayers (60 Minutes Video, 2009)