The Mental Illness Awareness Week blog, sharing stories of recovery, personal experiences, and mental health/mental illness news.


Faces of Mental Illness
Andy Sibbald

Throughout my life I have had some very good jobs in the addiction’s field. These jobs have ranged from coordinating community based alcohol and drug programs to managing a Territorial alcohol and drug program. I have worked with some wonderful people who I have very fond memories of. Knowing what I know now it is surprising that I was able to function in such good jobs.

The first community I moved to in the N.W.T (now Nunavut) was Coppermine (now Kugluktuk). I was to serve as Coordinator of the local alcohol and drug program there. The community was 97% Inuit so culture shock should have come as no surprise. Many things I had learned in the south had no relevancy in the north and it took time to replace what didn’t work with what did work in my new setting. My whole psyche changed to accommodate my new reality. I felt lost at times because I had gone from being highly competent in the south to knowing very little of what mattered in my new northern environment.


Within the first week of my moving to Coppermine the local Anglican Minister knocked on my door and asked if I would help him. He was a thin little man with glasses who had a British accent and seemed highly energetic. I wanted to fit into the community so said I would be happy to help him. He said we would just need to go next door to a white trailer identical to mine and deal with a problem there. I had no idea what he was talking about and wondered what the problem could possibly be-did he think I was a plumber or something?
When we entered the trailer we walked into a totally unfurnished living room that had dark wooden paneling on the walls and some depressing brown carpet on the floor. It was quite dingy but I immediately noticed a young man about twenty lying on the floor besides a very large plywood box. I looked at the Minister and he said, “He killed himself yesterday and I need you to help me put him in the box”. He then said, “I hope he hasn’t stiffened up or we may have to break his legs to get him into the box.” I was quite surprised by the whole episode and certainly would have never experienced something like this in southern Canada. I liked to think experiences like this had no effect on me. I now realize they had a profound impact on me.

The north required I either make major changes psychologically or leave. I made the changes necessary to stay. After twenty years of working in northern alcohol and drug programs I moved to Nanaimo, BC. My new job would require me to develop an educational system for a number of addiction’s clinicians on Vancouver Island. It seemed like a good job and I was quite excited about working with my new boss and colleagues

The Meltdown

When I got to Nanaimo I could sense something was wrong. So many people knew so much more than me about living in the south. Much of what I had learned in the north simply did not matter in this new environment. Within three months of moving to Nanaimo a doctor determined that I was unable to work, a psychologist said my anxiety level was so high my test results could not be accurately interpreted and I felt vulnerable and alone. I had no idea what was wrong and was confused by my rapidly declining health. Within three months I had moved from an excellent job and contented lifestyle to someone on disability pension who was questioning their own sanity. I remain on disability three years later and for some reasons have not been able to get to a place where I am able to work in any type of job.

Changing Sides of the Desk

I found out about, and was referred into, a dialectical behavioral therapy group run by local mental health and addiction’s clinicians. Ironically, I was previously employed to design an educational system for the same clinicians from whom I now received service. The psychologist and psychiatrist I was seeing also worked for the same agency I had worked for. Now I had changed sides of the desk and was a client rather than an employee. I felt shame, guilt and embarrassment when I went to receive services from my colleagues. My memory was not very good and I found myself functioning at a comparatively low level. In spite of my feelings I continued to attend my appointments and group sessions and found the process very helpful! The clinicians with whom I had worked were both supportive and highly professional. They treated me very kindly which was important because my life as I had known it was shattered.

It was a humbling experience to require services from people I had worked with in the addictions and mental health field. I do not know if I have always been mentally ill but in my new southern environment have been unable to compensate for my illness. I know my life has forever changed. I believe my experience with the Anglican Minister and the dead young man, coupled with seeing hundreds of other comparable events first hand, traumatized me. In order to survive in the north I was required to make psychological and emotional shifts to adapt. These changes are now so well entrenched and specific to the north that I have been unable to adapt to the south. I still wonder what happened and probably will for the remainder of my life.

In spite of being on a disability pension I have developed a life worth living one day at a time. I am extremely grateful for the support of medical professionals, family and friends. I have become a writer and public speaker and am enjoying life very much.


Faces of Mental Illness
Beth Lyster

Beth was one of the 54 people nominated to become a national Face of Mental Illness as part of MIAW.

She writes:

Since January 2006 I have been employed as a Mental Health promoter with CMHA-WECB. It is only since working at CMHA that I have aggressively begun to seek out adequate treatment and diagnosis of my nearly lifelong emotional and psychological distresses.

Now, finally, 30 years after first experiencing hallmark symptoms, I am about to begin treatment for the first time for what is a most likely diagnosis: hypomanic bipolar disorder. Illness and identity are complicated issues. Being properly diagnosed has been both a relief and a challenge – a challenge to integrate the information inherent in this label without being limited by it.

Alan Cohen warns, “Take care what words you speak that follow “I am”. In so speaking, you create your life.” I am not my mental illness. But I must not neglect it either - I must claim it to become healthier.

Educating the public about mental health and mental illness is something I am compelled to do: for those who love someone who is ill, for those who are beginning to notice symptoms; and, certainly for others who are living successfully in recovery. But, most of all I speak aloud for those who struggle to get through each day, hoping that no one notices how very hard won that success may be, who may have lived a lifetime in secret pain. Because of the stigma.

A big part of recovery is challenging stigma: shedding the shame which acts as tacit acceptance of the negative impression and prejudices of others. It’s time to find the stigma surrounding mental illnesses unacceptable.

Beth A. Lyster
Mental Health Promoter, CMHA Windsor-Essex County Branch
Windsor, Ontario

Faces of Mental Illness
Jean François Samson

Jean François was one of the 54 people nominated to become a national Face of Mental Illness as part of MIAW.

He writes:

My Story

My experience with mental illness came to light with a suicidal attempt in April of 1996. At the time, I felt depressed since I did not have a companion. I searched for companionship but remained unsuccessful finding that special someone. With the help of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, I later realized that 40% of those affected with schizophrenia attempt suicide. So I came to understand my past action and all feelings of guilt disappeared. Depression turned into paranoia and paranoia turned into schizophrenia. Basically, the situation evolved towards hearing voices. In December of 1998, I heard my first voice which was the voice of an Iroquois girl. I suddenly believed that I was hearing my daughter and that I was telepathic. That was the only way to explain being able to hear this voice and other voices later on. Her voice could be heard in my mind and not with my ears. It was clear and I celebrated the fact that I was a father. Communication was made easy and I could listen and share thoughts with other people without using my voice but my mind. When alone, I would speak out loud to make sure that I would be heard but I could maintain a conversation speaking with my mind.

More delusions developed and I sensed that a lot of people were in danger. So I attempted to report incidents to police forces which included the names of my parents. I would see assailants around me and because I did not have the power to arrest, I had to rely on the police to do this job. All I could do was to report the facts. I had piles of reports in my apartment and I would continuously write down incidents which involved rape, murder and assault. This experience was the most troublesome since most of the time, I laughed with friends of my imagination. I speak more in detail about the actions taken and the things believed during my presentations as a public speaker.

It is known that mental illness is not a top priority in the governments’ agenda in Canada. Drug coverage is an example where the governments have neglected to notice the hardships suffered by those affected by a mental illness and by their families. There are organizations which work towards public awareness and they do a fabulous job. But at times, the assistance of governmental agencies is needed and there is an evident lack of participation. I believe that if politicians live the experience of knowing someone close to them who has suffered from a mental illness that they would work much harder to look after our needs. There has been progress but very little. Just recently, Risperdal Consta has been funded by the Ontario government but it took three years to see this result. Government bodies in Canada must notice that it is less expensive to cover the cost of all psychiatric medications than to cover hospital expenses. Drug coverage in all provinces should definitely be a top priority.

I have been involved with the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. I have worked closely with Sheila Deighton and Cynthia Clark. They have invited me to speak in front of various audiences in order to educate curious minds about the experience of living with schizophrenia. Fortunately, I am able to speak before a group, small or large, and clearly explain the attributes of delusions and relate the hardships suffered by me and by my family.

To conclude, I would like to say that successful medical treatment is the only way to recover from schizophrenia. There are other factors which prove to be useful such as family and community support. However, only medication can make a real difference. It would be great for everyone affected by a mental illness to have access to these medications, as a process which requires government assistance.


Faces of Mental Illness
Megan Schellenberg

Megan was one of the 54 people nominated to become a national Face of Mental Illness as part of MIAW.

She writes:

That’s right – I said it. Now deal with it.

People often ask why I have taken upon Aboriginal* youth suicide prevention as my passion in both my personal and professional life. Though there are many issues facing youth that I am sympathetic, passionate and informed about, I have dedicated myself to the issue of youth suicide prevention. This is not an easy issue to advocate for – it demands an honest, relentless and unforgiving approach, and there continues to be a limited amount of research, knowledge and dialogue surrounding the issue. Moreover, a conversation that is centered on these attributes has been difficult to ignite on a personal level, much less a national one.

As many friends, family members and colleagues know, mental illness and suicide has affected me on a very personal level. Aside from my own suicide attempts and self-harmful behaviours, I was recently diagnosed with Emotional Regulation Disorder (also known as Borderline Personality Disorder). This is marked by shifting emotions, maladaptive interpersonal relationships and a fear of abandonment (to name a few). While in my teenage years, I was diagnosed with depression and subsequently treated with anti-depressants. At my worst I was harming myself a few times a week and it would usually take the form of cutting or scratching. I made a half attempt to hide it, though I am not surprised that many noticed and didn’t say anything. Although I would self harm without the intent of suicide (similar to most who self-harm) the thought was never far from my mind.

Canadians know that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15 to 24. Even more concerning, it is the leading cause of death among First Nations and Inuit youth, with rates sitting between three and 11 times higher than the national average.

I consider myself lucky because I was able to get the help that I needed to move forward to live a happy and productive life and I am only 23 years of age. Unfortunately this isn’t the case for many of my First Nations, Inuit and Métis peers. Almost 80 per cent of people who attempt or complete suicide, suffer from a mental illness; but to date, there is very limited data on the number of First Nations, Inuit and Métis who suffer from mental illness. Additionally, the state of our current mental health care system, in which only 5 per cent of funding goes towards mental health research, combined with a lack of health care professionals working in Aboriginal communities means that many of these illnesses go undiagnosed.

Mental illness is linked to many of the problems that all youth deal with. This includes things like promiscuous sex (often resulting in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted and blood-born infections), drug and alcohol addictions, homelessness, and suicide. Not surprisingly, these are the same problems that some First Nation, Inuit and Métis youth encounter on a day-to-day basis.

If we could recognize, diagnose and treat mental illness among youth, (especially First Nation youth where the aforementioned problems occur at higher rates than in non-Aboriginal youth) there is a strong possibility that these issues would be dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner. I realize that I just attempted to oversimplify a very, very complex problem and I am quite aware that the solutions require a multifaceted, holistic approach to solve them; however, I don’t believe that this idea is so far fetched that it is unattainable during my lifetime.

In January, 2009 I was selected to sit on a youth advisory group for the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), which is working towards a national strategy to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. The MHCC is hopeful that it will bring mental illness, “Out of the shadows forever” as described by Commission Chair, Michael Kirby. I don’t advocate for this issue because I necessarily want to, but because I need to. Thankfully many people have been able to step out of this shadow – this darkness – in the hopes that it will inspire others to do the same. While it is still not easy for us to discuss mental illness and suicide under this blanket of fear, stigma and shame, we will end this silence and I move forward with a sense of empowerment that will only continue to grow.

*The term Aboriginal is used to encompass the First Nation, Inuit and Métis populations of Canada


Faces of Mental Illness
Wendy Matthews

Wendy was one of the 54 people nominated to become a national Face of Mental Illness as part of MIAW.

She writes:

Meet Wendy Matthews.

Wendy was inspired to launch her new business “happy being ME” 18 months ago in St. Catharines ON after she awoke from her sleep in the middle of the night with the fact that she was happy with who she is.

Wendy has struggled with her illness, bipolar schizoaffective disorder for over 30 years. Starting back when she was 12 years old with her first of many suicide attempts, her challenges through the years have been many. Wendy suffers with depression, mania, delusions and hallucinations. Unable to work for more than a 10 year period in her life, her self esteem was depleted. Finally, unwilling to give up on her life, she sought out help and was finally able to accept it.

With a lot of hard personal work and the support of her family and friends Wendy was finally able to move back in to the work force. It wasn’t until she was able to accept the fact that her illness was not who she was, it was just a part of her, sometimes big, sometimes small but she was more than that. This brought about that fateful night that has changed her life ever since. Those words “happy being Me” kept going through her head along with the feeling of excitement she felt in her heart.

Wendy wanted everyone to feel the way she did, to accept themselves for who they are. To celebrate their difference, challenges and who they are. Wendy now runs her happy tee’s and accessories business www. As well she offers speeches of her life story to inspire and motivate people who are living with this illness, is caring for someone affected with illness, or anyone interested in learning more about mental health. Wendy believes that education is the first step to dispelling the stigma attached to mental illness and also is proof that Recovery is Possible.


Faces of Mental Illness
Stephen Quinn

Stephen was one of the 54 people nominated to become a national Face of Mental Illness as part of MIAW.

He writes:

Religion or Delusion?

I understand the difficulty in drawing the line between religion and delusion. I have had a hard time with delusions that are a part of my psychosis, and I have experienced the benefits of religion that are a part of my faith. Unfortunately for us, there is sometimes a murky zone where the two overlap.

Navigating through this confused area, we are guided by the desire to keep the best parts of our faith while avoiding the worst parts of our illness.

The question becomes "How can you tell if a particular belief is born of your faith or your psychosis?"

First of all, some type of treatment regime is necessary to treat the psychosis. Often, I have found that I leave my delusions behind me as my mind responds to treatment.
Part of my treatment plan has included at times - in addition to medications and support from health care professionals - supportive discussions with priests and nuns (I am Catholic).

But I have something shocking to say. Would you believe that my experience with schizophrenia has brought me to a deeper understanding of God?

In the midst of one psychotic episode, while living within so many delusions, and beneath their paranoia, one Sister spoke gently to me. I was in the midst of fear, engaged in behaviours because I believed that if I didn't, something horrible would happen, believing that God was saying "Do this, or else!"

I do not remember her name, but I remember what she said.

"God's Spirit does not sound like that..."

She was asking me to abandon my delusions and the behaviours they forced from me, and with them, those religious beliefs that intimidate me and force me to comply.

I now see a God who possesses great humility, and comes not as an intimidating force over us, but, instead, comes as the nurturing power within us.

And when I see that I am loved, and that there is something within me that is worth loving, I hold onto it.

I pray that you will too.

with Love,


Faces of Mental Illness
Andy Sibbald

Andy was one of the 54 people nominated to become a national Face of Mental Illness as part of MIAW.

He writes:

Defining the Problem

At the age of 45 I was diagnosed with a number of mental illnesses considered severe enough to put me out of the workforce and land me on the Canadian Pension Plan disability pension. I had no idea I was mentally ill and had just completed a Masters degree in community development prior to moving to Nanaimo, BC for a good job. For the previous twenty years I had worked in excellent paying jobs in the addiction’s field across Canada’s three northern Territories. I had no idea I was mentally ill and had very effectively compensated for the mental illnesses I have. To many I would have been considered successful but they could not see the mental and emotional anguish that I experienced on a daily basis.

I assumed that everyone experienced what I was experiencing. Unlike me this was not the experience of people who did not suffer from dysthymia, depression coupled with ADHD, anxiety and personality problems. I had a long history of relationship difficulties and had begun abusing alcohol at a very young age. Since I was never diagnosed as a child with a mental illness I was never put on any medication that could stabilize me or decrease the emotional pain I was experiencing. In fact I did see a psychologist who told my parents that all I needed was more spankings. So alcohol became my highly effective painkiller.

Since I moved to Nanaimo three years ago I have been provided with excellent medical care for my mental illnesses. I have had the opportunity to participate in a Dialectical Behavioural Therapy group which has given me some insights into ways to function in a healthier way. I have been prescribed a number of medications that are assisting in giving me a life worth living. Life can be difficult at times but now with twenty-three years of sobriety and the proper medications I am able to contribute to my community in ways I find meaningful.


I have been out of the workforce for close to three years now. As a result I have had to redefine myself. I am not what I do for a living and nor am I the sum of my mental health and addictions issues. I am a father, brother, a contributor to my community and a writer. I began writing last year and have had a few short stories published along with two articles in ‘Visions’. I am presently working on a book entitled, ‘The Truble with Normmal’, which is an autobiography of what has turned out to be a very strange life, but one filled with great hope. I am now comfortable with defining myself, not by what I do, but rather with who I am. It is a nice place to be and the change in perspective and values has been very healthy.

Giving Back

On June 6, 2009 I completed the 63.5 km Great Walk from Gold River to Tahsis, BC. Completing this walk assisted in raising close to $900 for an excellent local mental health agency named the Columbian Centre Society. On September 21, 2009 I will participate in the 56 km Great Lake Walk from Youbou to Lake Cowichan, BC to raise money for the local branch of the CMHA. I am working with the Nanaimo Branch of the CMHA to get pledges to raise funds for local CMHA initiatives. Our local CMHA does amazing work and it is a privilege to be working together in partnership!


MIAW is an extremely important event because it assists in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness on a national level. It also provides education and greater awareness about mental illness. Awareness and understanding should reduce the amount of discrimination experienced by the mentally ill. It should also breed tolerance and support for those who are mentally ill.

The FACES Campaign is important in that it challenges commonly held stereotypes of the mentally ill. The people who have been selected for the campaign are intelligent, thoughtful people who have good educations and jobs. They are people who we are likely to find living next door. They are courageous people who are willing to risk negative personal impacts in order to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. We all benefit through their work and for that I am grateful.

I feel that the CMHA has done a wonderful job of supporting the mentally ill in Nanaimo and am grateful for the tremendous amount of work done at a provincial level.

I am grateful to the CMHA as a member of CAMIMH for taking a national and provincial leadership role for MIAW.


Faces of Mental Illness
Arlene Mayes

Arlene is a Mental Health Support Worker from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She has overcome her debilitating agoraphobia and become an inspirational leader who helps others find hope and become empowered by their experiences with mental illness.

Arlene est travailleuse de soutien en santé mentale et habite à Winnipeg, au Manitoba. Elle a surmonté son agoraphobie pour devenir un leader qui inspire, qui donne de l’espoir et qui encourage les gens de se servir de leurs propres expériences afin de surmonter les défis.

I like to view having a mental illness as a blessing rather than a setback as it has only strengthened my compassion and caring for others. I am able to see a shining light throughout my journey and my wish is to help all that are struggling through their own rough times find not only their shining light but hope as well. I have organized a walk along with the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba to help bring an end to stigma. I send blessings and well wishes to all.

With much love and respect,

Arlene L. Mayes

Arlene is one of five 2009 Faces of Mental Illness. To learn more about this year's Faces, visit our website.

Arlene est une de cinq Visages dans la campagne "La maladie mentale à visage découvert" de 2009. Pour faire connaissance avec tous les Visages de 2009, visitez notre site web



Welcome to the new Mental Illness Awareness Week blog!

As Chair of the MIAW Committee, and a member of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH), I am proud to be the first to contribute to this exciting new feature of our annual campaign.

Here, you will find news and updates on the current MIAW campaign, as well as relevant news articles that expand the discussion on mental illness and mental health. You will also read guest posts from CAMIMH members and others within the mental health community, discussing a variety of topics surrounding mental illness and mental health, MIAW and the state and progress of mental health advocacy in Canada.

The MIAW blog will also provide a forum for the Faces of Mental Illness and Champions of Mental Health. Faces and Champions, past and present will share their stories and insights on the status of mental health in our country. As part of our effort to open the eyes of Canadians to mental illness, we also hope to feature the untold stories of thousands of Canadians who have struggled with mental illness and have emerged as symbols of hope in their communities.

The discussion that takes place here will reflect the message that Recovery is Possible.


Kathleen A. Provost

Chair, MIAW Committee
Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health

Mental Illness Awareness Week is coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health – an alliance of mental health care providers, the mentally ill and their families. MIAW is CAMIMH’s national campaign to address the stigma faced by persons with a lived experience of mental illness and their families. It helps open the eyes of Canadians to the need for appropriate access to