Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 27, 2006
Schizophrenics call to Church for understanding
Priests, pastoral workers feel need for more education
By BILL GLEN
"There are a lot of misconceptions about people with schizophrenia," Mardon said. "In many of the cases, they don't need to be afraid of the person anymore than they need to be afraid of the general population."
Sister Bev Spohn says it would be beneficial if workshops on schizophrenia and other mental illnesses were more available.
"As we do with everyone, we treat them with respect, kindness and a willingness to give them our time," said Spohn, pastoral assistant at St. Alphonsus Parish in Edmonton.
"We have to remember there are different degrees of schizophrenia, as well as different levels of intelligence. The way you find out is by spending time with them."
Spohn brings Communion to an institutionalized parishioner upon request when Father Patrick Baska is unavailable. Another parishioner usually shows up for Mass at the wrong times. She is confused and guilt ridden. She continually asks Spohn for material to read.
Schizophrenia is broken down by the "rule of thirds." A third of the sufferers get better after one or two episodes. A third, such as Mardon, stabilize with medication. And a third are not able to function well and generally are hospitalized.
Some 40 per cent of schizophrenics attempt suicide with 10 per cent tragically achieving their goal.
More than half of the respondents to Mardon's survey said they did not know enough about schizophrenia or mental illness to minister to the sufferers and their families.
Sr. Bev Spohn
Mardon hopes the Catholic community will more openly embrace the mentally ill and encourage them to continue with their medications.
He says this is a vital area because as the person begins to feel better, there is a tendency to stop taking their medicine because of the stigma and side effects associated with anti-psychotic drugs. This often leads to another "psychotic episode."
"It's like diabetes. If you have it, you have to stay on insulin the rest of your life."
Mardon serves on numerous boards, including the Premier's Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities. He continues to write and research.
He believes that through education, the priest, deacon or pastoral assistant would be able to cope with problems they might encounter more successfully.
Helping a person with a mental illness goes beyond the individual who suffers further from society's rejection of them.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about people with schizophrenia."
- Austin Mardon
"Many of them have family where the social fabric is impacted," he said.
Giri Puligandla is executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta (Edmonton and area). He said schizophrenia is a treatable illness where two-thirds of the people can return to enjoying life.
"We are a source of information and support for anyone, including clergy members, who want to help a person and family members living with mental illness," he said.
"We ask people to recognize the hardships faced by many of our family members where there is much need for support from friends and others in the congregation."
Some subtle early warning signs include withdrawal from social situations, becoming suspicious or paranoid and changes in eating or sleeping habits.
The SSA is a non-profit, charitable organization of family members and individuals living with mental illnesses.
Part of its mission is offering public education activities. In one such activity, a person living with mental illness and a family member will come out and provide critical information, mostly through personal testimonials.
"The most important part of their presentation is in the telling of their stories," Puligandla said.
Few people understand what horrible things others go through, he said.
"They have lost all of the support they had from other family members. Their friends are all gone. They live in social isolation which is the most disabling part of the disease. Often they feel they have no hope and one to talk to."
(For more information about schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses, call the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta at (780) 452-4661. Its website is www.ssa-edmonton.com.)
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