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


New Faces for MIAW 2010!

The MIAW team is proud to introduce the new Faces for the 2010 Face Mental Illness campaign!

We’ve selected five Canadians from across Canada who are living successfully with mental illness.

This year's Faces are:

- David Albert Newman is an internal auditor from Winnipeg, Manitoba;

- Marie Asuncion is a musician and ESL teacher from Toronto, Ontario;

- Dr. Ted Jablonski is a family physician from Calgary, Alberta;

- Jennifer Ashawasegai is a journalist and a member of the Anishinabek Nation, in Ontario;

- Christine Dubois, a support worker, volunteer and author from Asbestos, Quebec.

Our five Faces, selected from across Canada, are real-life role models and truly embody the “Approximately one in five Canadians will be affected by mental illness at some point during their lifetime,” says MIAW Chair, Dr. Pamela Forsythe. “The Faces of Mental Illness are real people with real stories of recovery.”

Every day next week, we will be featuring each Face’s story in more detail. First up: Jennifer Ashawasegai. Check back Monday to read more!

Marie Asuncion's Video Blog

Our 2010 Face, Marie Asuncion, will be sending us video blog posts throughout the campaign.

This first video explains her journey from diagnosis to recovery. Enjoy!


I am David Albert Newman.

I am David Albert Newman. I was born in 1976 and I am now 34 years old. I have Schizophrenia. It is only a small part of me now. But at one time it was a large part since I was suicidal, depressed, anxious, hallucinating and delusional.
I recovered with medication and effective psychological-social rehabilitation counselling with a skilled, empathetic, and tireless mental health community worker at CMHA-Winnipeg Region. I recovered so well, by resilience and empowerment that I volunteer as the CMHA – Winnipeg Region Board Treasurer. I was also a volunteer with the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) – Winnipeg Chapter as a Board Member and Education Committee Member.

After recovery, I pursued higher education to receive my Certified Internal Auditor designation and my Association of Chartered Certified Accountant designation, to accompany my CGA designation and my Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) – with Distinction. During the fall of 2009 I commenced my MBA, and subsequently I want to study for my Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA). I want my MBA and DBA studies and research to focus upon mental illness, housing, and poverty relative to organizational analysis and the economy. My research will be both descriptive and prescriptive. My focus will be Occupational Health Psychology and Organizational Theory. The reason is that I had persistent troubles with work and I was fired from four jobs, but I was the only one to be found at fault. Employers must share responsibility for the health and safety of employees.

Studies show, such as the Schizophrenia in Canada: A National Report by the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, that there is extended wait time from GP to psychiatric treatment for individuals with a mental illness. Numerous other studies have outlined the high costs of both productivity losses for the economy and mental illness hospitalization.

Given this knowledge, we need to first minimize medical professional and other societal citizens' stigmas and biases towards mental illness patients. Second, more importantly, but following the first point, we need to minimize wait times by hiring more psychiatrists (doctors and nurses), along with psychologists, and community mental health workers, while ensuring they are highly trained and adept at diagnostic medicine (and treatment if so needed). Finally, and most importantly, we MUST encourage PREVENTATIVE ANNUAL MENTAL HEALTH CHECK UPS, BEFORE CRISIS STRIKES i.e. severe depression and anxiety, psychosis, suicide attempted and completed, etc.
This move to Annual Mental Health Check Ups, integrated across the medical professionals, community mental health workers, and patient mentioned could, 1) Save the health care system millions by moving the service wait time bottleneck to the forefront of care where it is less costly compared to the back end hospitalization, 2) Improve the quality of life drastically for the family and the individual with the mental illness before a crisis occurs requiring more significant recovery, and 3) Minimize mental illness stigma by creating a preventative and proactive medicine mindset for medical professionals, community mental health workers, patients, and other citizens.

The Annual Mental Health Check Up for the specific young patient (early age identification is critical to more effective treatment than later illness onset) could consist of risk and mitigation factor analysis including:
• A genetic familial history of mental illness;
• The positive and negative social experiences and stressors;
• The coping behaviours, including substance abuse;
• A symptom delineation of mental illness and whether matching thoughts and behaviours have occurred;
• The social support network;
• The financial support network and financial debt status (in general terms); and
• A preliminary diagnosis, treatment (both medication and psychological-social rehabilitation counselling, if needed), and mental illness acceptance counselling for the patient, family members, and close friends
To achieve this drastic change in thinking, proactive Government promotion of mental health maximization and mental illness minimization are needed considering socially acceptable Annual Mental Health Check Ups. Mental illness stigmatization minimization marketing should also occur, in tandem, for best effects.
Furthermore, we need to re-conceptualize the mental health care system communication, consult, and thus cross competencies. I see a conceptual problem with mental health care to be tested and it is that it may be perceived and enacted as a "continuum of care" rather than a "Venn Diagram of care". The continuum of mental health care places medicating psychiatrists at one end, and community-based counselling services at the other end. In the middle are psychologists. This is a linear representation of care.

This creates a mutual exclusivity and exhaustive presentation of reality that is sub-optimal to integrated mental health care. This arises due to deep specialization.

Instead, we need to keep specialization, but we need coordinated overlap of mental health services. Medication AND counselling are key to mental illness recovery and leveraging of human creative knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Thus, the best depiction of this integrated but specialized model of mental health care is the Venn Diagram. In the centre is the overlap of the service care provided to the patient/client/consumer of mental health services who is also at the centre. This is a multiple circular representation of care.

With this re-conceptualization of the continuum of mental health care, we will move to strengthen coordinated and integrated mental health services to empower mental health service consumers' recovery and to become the best that they can be.

All that is left is to break down the silos that exist between the end points of the continuum of care.

My psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse said three things to my parents when I was completely out of it:
1. David will never work again and will have to be institutionalized for the rest of his life
2. There is no counselling help in Manitoba
3. CMHA Winnipeg cannot help David

I found number two and three to beat the odds of number one. To which I say, it is hard enough to recover from a severe mental illness such as Schizophrenia, Depression, AND Anxiety, but it is made even more difficult when the psychiatric care does not counsel you and provides no solutions beyond heavy medication.

That is where CMHA Winnipeg came in to empower me with a highly skilled and empathetic counsellor in the Rehabilitation and Recovery Service for Psychological-social rehabilitation (PSR).

Thus, the medications were a basis start, but I needed CMHA Winnipeg to re-build skill and confidence to obtain and to hold a job and to learn how to live day-to-day caring for myself. After that, everything else fell into place (especially since I kept my house). Some may say, and to some degree I concur, it's like teaching a baby to walk again. Mental illness can be that bad, but growth afterwards can be that good. As such, I pose to the Minister of Health, please consider my story and know that the continuum of care needs to change to what I propose for greater recovery rates as efficiency, effectiveness, and economy of the mental health care system but in combinational terms of moderate medications from "professionals" and counselling from "grass roots" human beings as human beings for human beings.
Medications matter. But so do people.

Children wait for N.S. mental health services

Children and families are waiting up to a year for a routine referral for mental health services at the IWK Health Centre, a group of Nova Scotia MLAs were told Tuesday.

Senior mental health officials told the community services committee that the health system is struggling to keep up with an ever-growing demand for services.

"We have between 700 and 1,000 children and families waiting. It's a moving target so it changes daily," said Susan Mercer, senior director of mental health and addiction services at the IWK, the children's hospital for the Maritimes.

Mercer said it should take no more than three months to get a regular appointment, but people are now waiting anywhere from six months to a year.

Linda Courey, director of mental health and addictions for the Cape Breton District Health Authority, said early diagnosis and treatment can be key.

"If you can identify these symptoms before the first psychotic episode the major decrease in functioning that these kids will experience over the course of their lives and the subsequent demand on the health-care system, you can prevent that. You can have a massive impact," she said.

But in Cape Breton, as in Halifax, only the sickest get help quickly, Courey added.

Read full article

CBC News
Wednesday, June 2, 2010


My name is Marie Asuncion

My name is Marie Asuncion, and I am a consumer survivor of first episode psychosis also known as schizophrenia. A long time ago, I pictured my life as being a girl walking into her high school for the first time, popular, pretty, and together. But, unfortunately, that all changed after my first year in Grade 9. I lost all faith in myself, my friends disowned me, and high school seemed like a prison, rather than a place to learn. My mind was constantly torturing me for the whole 8 hour days in and out of classes. Teachers began to worry, but I knew worrying about people worrying about me wasn’t going to make my situation any better. I knew I had no way out. If I had to do it all by myself, (the recovery process), I knew I would fail, and probably would never end up in any of the places my dreams had told me I would end up. Do I give up? Is this what my life is going to be like now? A life with misery, torture, insomnia, voices, paranoia, crying fits and frustration? Would it ever end?

10 years later, I’m here. I’m here and I’m flourishing. I yearn to help others now with mental health, because to me, recovery is possible and we are slowly getting there. Stigma is a thing of the past for me, it may not be for others, but that’s the main reason I think the way I do- “Recovery is Possible”, says Marie, on and on in her head. So, after those pivotal 10 years later, could I say now that it has ended? Yes, I can, and, it has.

I’m a woman with dreams. A woman with a passion to love others and teach. I love my job, my family, and of coarse, the people in my life that make life so worth it to keep going. Prayer, for me, has saved my butt. But without God, nothing is ever possible.

And so now, I realize that I am not alone in this world, with this mental health problem. It’s more in the dark now, but in a good way. We shed light on mental illness, but not on how it belittles our minds to believe we have no purpose in this life. I’m proud to be where I am today. And I can say that I have met some pretty amazing individuals that I can also be proud of. Like me, they fight, and we are now living normal lives, like normal people. Because, we are normal.

We fight for our rights, and this is the whole thing behind Mental Illness Awareness week. People have to be AWARE. And so, being chosen to be a face for MIAW, is not only a blessing, but one more of an opportunity that can help not one, but many people see that in the faces of those healed, hope, change, endurance, and peace can be theirs too. Thank you MIAW for choosing me as the face for mental illness awareness week! And let’s continue working together to strive for change, and one day see the face of adversity as something of a distant past.

Marie Asuncion

Humour the best medicine for mental health patients

Dave Nelson (left), executive director of the province's division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, watches comedian Ian Morrison go through his routine in Regina on Monday.
Photograph by: Don Healy, Leader-Post, The Leader-Post

"If the audience doesn't laugh, that's their fault" -- that was a humorous lesson a young Ian Morrison learned from watching standup comedy legend George Carlin.

Now, as a teacher of standup comedy, Morrison has created his own musings on comedy.

"What you need to focus on is having fun -- do this because you want to do it and have fun," said the 16-year veteran of standup comedy and former student of the Humber School of Comedy Writing and Performance in Toronto.

Morrison has teamed up with the Saskatchewan Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association and created a program to help mental health patients perform standup comedy and learn valuable life lessons.

Read full article

By Doyle Fox, The Leader-Post


Schools lack access to mental-health professionals, report says

While more and more children are being diagnosed with mental-health problems and learning disabilities, schools are struggling to gain access to mental-health professionals with the expertise to address their students’ learning needs, according to a report released Monday by a parent advocacy group.

The report, which was compiled by People for Education and based on a survey of Ontario principals, found that less than half of the province’s secondary schools have regular access to psychologists and youth workers.

“Maybe it’s not necessarily your kid, but if we want our schools to be thriving happy places where kids can work and learn, it’s really important that we deal with mental health,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education and an author of the report. “If you have a school where some kids can function and others can’t, nobody can learn easily.”

Do you think schools are doing enough to raise awareness and provide support for mental health in schools?

Read full article

Stigma-free alternate world beckons

Even when the tickets were sold out, people kept phoning, hoping a spot would open up. Clearly, Toronto's first mental health camp met a need.

The day-long “unconference” — as organizers described it — was an opportunity for people with mental illness, those who care for them, and those who care about them, to explore the benefits and dangers of social networking.

It's a new frontier for those trapped and stigmatized by their diagnosis.

“People have found a place where they are able to be themselves,” said organizer Anne Ptasznik, who has worked in the mental health field for 15 years. “You're a Facebook friend first, who happens to have a mental illness.”

Do you feel there is less stigma of mental illness in the online community?

Read full article