Persistent stigma a barrier to mental health

The turning point for Corey was when he started accepting his diagnosis

At 18, Corey was like many teenagers.

He felt tired and disengaged. He lacked focus and his grades were slipping.

Unlike most teens, a year later Corey was living on the streets of Victoria impacted by psychosis, hearing voices and having hallucinations.

“I wasn’t experiencing the typical teenage angst,” said Corey. “When I look back on it now, I can see that I was in the early stages of schizophrenia.”

While on the streets, Corey was admitted into care and certified under the Mental Health Act.

“I fought treatment and medication for years because I didn’t believe anything was wrong with me,” said Corey. “My illness took me away from normal reality to an alternate reality where my mind was completely focused on the voices in my head.”

The turning point for Corey was when he started accepting his diagnosis.

“When I was admitted for the sixth time, I realized that my life was getting worse and not better without treatment. I couldn’t hold down a job and my relationship with my family was chaotic. I knew I had to face my own stigma against my mental illness and accept it, or I was not going to get better.”

Corey and his family turned to the BC Schizophrenia Society for education and support.

During his recovery, he could see the value of having a role model and worked with the Society to form their Peer Support Program.

Now 22 years after his first diagnosis, Corey is a Peer Support Worker and works full time for Island Health’s Pandora Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) team in downtown Victoria.

He sees his personal experience as valuable in helping clients through the mental health system.

“The role I play can be a bridge between health care professionals and clients. I understand what it’s like to be a client, but I’m also a resource for the PACT team,” he said.

Corey is proud that the day he received his diploma as a Community Mental Health Worker from Camosun College was also the day his doctor discharged him from care, meaning he was considered able to manage his illness on his own.

“Although schizophrenia is a chronic illness, not being in denial about it has allowed me to live a normal life,” said Corey.

He recognizes the important role of medication in managing his illness but has found it can be sedating.

“I complement my medication with other strategies like meditation, therapy, breathing techniques, diet and exercise so I can keep my dosage at the lowest level. I look at the brain as an organ like any other, and a healthy lifestyle keeps my symptoms away,” he said.

Through his story, Corey hopes to raise awareness about mental illness, end the stigma and provide hope to people who suffer from mental illness and their families.

“My mom deserves all the credit. She was with me throughout it all and her support was amazing,” said Corey. “Mental illness can be really hard on families and friends, but help is out there.”

Peer Support Workers are a requirement for all Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) services in BC. Corey’s next goal is to help get Peer Support Workers accredited and on ACT Teams across Canada, and he hopes to participate in the National Conference on Peer Support taking place in Halifax from April 30 to May 2, 2014.

Nearly one in five Canadians is affected by mental illness, yet a persistent stigma prevents millions from getting the help they need. This year, October 6th to 10th is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

Island Health encourages you to learn more about mental illness and services on Vancouver Island by visiting:

n Vancouver Island Crisis Line: Call 1-888-494-3888 or visit http://www.vicrisis.ca

n Island Health Mental Health and Substance Use: http://www.viha.ca/mhas/

n BC Schizophrenia Society: http://www.bcss.org/

n Beyond the Blues: Depression Anxiety Education and Screening Day Community Events on Vancouver Island: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/beyond-the-blues/island-2013

n HealthLink BC: Call 8-1-1 anywhere in BC or visit http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/

n Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health: http://camimh.ca/mental-illness-awareness-week-english/about-miaw/

n National Conference on Peer Support: http://www.psac-canada.com/