The grade 11 students at Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School (CCVS) learned first-hand what it's like to live with or know someone who lives with a mental illness last Friday when they heard presentations made by a representative from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), along with two local speakers.
Cornwall - December 1, 2011 - The grade 11 students at Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School (CCVS) learned first-hand what it's like to live with or know someone who lives with a mental illness last Friday when they heard presentations made by a representative from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), along with two local speakers.
CMHA - Champlain East Mental Health Promoter Angele D'Alessio brought along Michael Amell and Emily McBain - both former CCVS students - to talk about their experiences with mental illness as part of the Mental Health Promotion in Schools: Talking About Mental Illness (TAMI) program by CMHA. This was McBain's first presentation to students with CMHA, while Amell has been speaking for two years.
The purpose of the program is to inform, educate and sensitize the community about mental illnesses and good mental health practices, said D'Alessio. It is intended to dispel common misconceptions regarding mental illnesses and those living with mental illness. Student participants are introduced to various mental disorders, causes, treatments and available community resources.
Topics within the program are organized into categories - mental health, mental illness, suicide awareness and prevention, stress management and testimonials. Amell's and McBain's presentations are part of the testimonials portion.
This fiscal year, the organization has delivered 105 presentations to 2,033 students within high schools in the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry region (SDG). Following the presentations, 19 student interventions were conducted as a result of self-identification with mental health issues, or that of a friend or family member.
This is the reason Amell presents to students.
"I do know that there is going to be a child I speak to who is going to seek help because of what I said," Amell said.
The 32-year-old social services worker graduate lives with borderline personality disorder. According to the CMHA Web site, borderline personality disorder is "characterized by a pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships, self-image, affects and impulsive behaviours."
Amell talked about his life growing up in an abusive household. At only 13-years-old, he tried to take his own life. After being sent to the hospital, he was put on medication and sent on his way.
"When I got out, I came here to school," he said. "I missed 100 days of school that year, but I finished and got my credits.
"I was just too busy trying to be self-destructive," he added.
Amell explained that he got involved with a bad crowd and began to steal.
"I kept getting pulled in deeper because I thought these people loved me," he said.
Over the next couple of years, Amell dropped out of high school and started working in kitchens. He talked about how he got off work and put himself in dangerous situations. One night, he was jumped and stabbed, which landed him back in the hospital.
"I felt like everything around me was falling apart," he said. "I couldn't trust anyone."
When his little sister saw him in the hospital, she started crying.
"I started to reevaluate my life," he said. "I went to TR Leger to finish my grade 12."
After graduating, he started a social services worker college program.
"The program taught me who I was," he said. "I was abusing drugs and alcohol at the time. I started reaching out to CMHA resources. From that time forward, I've been getting up and doing this.
"When you have a mental health disorder, it's your choice how you live with it and deal with it every day," he added. "No matter what you're going through, you have the choice to do something with your life."
Following Amell's presentation, McBain talked about her experiences living with her mother, Karen, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when McBain was 16.
"I was scared and confused," she said. "I remember telling a friend about it who said 'your mom can't be schizophrenic. Your mom is normal.'
"My mom was the most kind-hearted woman," she added. "My distorted idea of schizophrenia had been changed forever."
According to the CMHA Web site, those with schizophrenia can suffer from delusions and/or hallucinations, lack of motivation, social withdrawal and thought disorders. The illness can develop quite rapidly, and usually strikes between the ages of 16-30.
McBain talked about how the symptoms are categorized into positive, negative, cognitive and emotional symptoms. She also discussed misconceptions of the illness, like the belief that those who have it are crazy, violent or dangerous.
"(My mom) had once believed people were going to hurt her children," McBain said. "She lived a constant battle of fighting off the symptoms. She couldn't concentrate or go to work; listening to the radio while driving was difficult.
"She suffered from depression," she added. "She always thought her family would be better off without her."
McBain said that she took on a supportive role for Karen. She did everything she could with her and for her.
"I would drive her," she said. "I would stay up with her. I would constantly console her.
"My mom was so embarrassed by her diagnosis and suffered in silence," McBain added. "No one deserves to suffer in silence the way my mother did. Those with mental illnesses need support. I want you guys to know that it?s not out of the ordinary for someone to suffer from a mental illness."
In 2006, Karen was killed in a car accident on Highway 138. In 2010, McBain and her two siblings Melanie and Kevin started the "Light the Way" walk and concert fundraiser in Lamoureux Park to support CMHA. Last year, they raised $8,000, and this past summer they raised $10,000.
Grade 11 students Fareha Sultan and Mahnoor Sultan were impacted by the presentations.
"It was very touching coming from their personal experiences," said Fareha. "It's useful because others may have family suffering and they might not know what to do."
"It helps change attitudes," said Mahnoor.
For more information on CMHA East, please call 613-933-5845 (SDG), 613-632-4924 (Prescott-Russell) or 1-800-493-8271. You can also visit www.cmha-east.on.ca.