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


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.