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

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