Community members affected by mental illness, their families, advocates and academics came together at a conference in Sechelt last Saturday to share experiences and learn from each other.
Nearly 100 people attended Living with a Mental Illness: A Community Approach at Chatelech Secondary School Sept. 17, a conference organized by the Sunshine Coast Branch of BC Schizophrenia Society, Arrowhead Centre Society, Sunshine Coast Community Services and with a grant from the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation.
"It was a huge success," said organizer and BCSS member Rita Petrescu. "Our intention was to bring together these groups of people to inspire co-operation and communication between them. But the key thing was to make people aware of what services are here, especially to support assistance for families dealing with mental illness. The feedback was great."
Highlights of the conference included a talk by renowned researcher Dr. Bill MacEwan, a psychiatrist in the early psychosis program at Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock and chair of the Medical Advisory Board who is a passionate advocate for people with mental illness on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
MacEwan spoke about awareness of early psychosis and recovery methods.
"Exercise improves memory and increases the hippocampus in schizo-phrenia," he told the audience.
He added that omega 3 supplements are neuro-protective and can actually prevent the onset of schizophrenia in vulnerable populations.
MacEwan also pointed out that marijuana use for young people susceptible to mental illness may relate to early onset and a poor prognosis.
Several of the presenters who are recognized advocates of mental health research and awareness are also Sunshine Coast residents.
Dr. Tom Ehmann, who lives in Langdale, is a psychologist with St. Paul's Hospital, instructor at the University of British Columbia and a published author. He spoke about cognitive deficits in schizophrenia, drugs and neuroplasticity, andhow the brain changes with environmental inputs.
Roberts Creek resident Dr. Erin Michalak is an associate professor in psychiatry at UBC who talked about her research on bipolar disorder.
Victoria Maxwell, who lives in Halfmoon Bay, performed her one-woman play, Funny You Don't Look Crazy,which shares her personal experience with bipolar and stigma in the workforce.
Informative discussions came from locals affected by mental illness working in the community.
Rebecca Pavitt, whose daughter has a mental illness, talked about the eight-week Strengthening Families program (offered by BCSS), which helps family members cope with mental illness and advocate for their loved ones.
Several people spoke about their struggles with mental illness and what inspired them to reach out to others.