Raising mental-health awareness

healthFamilies supporting relatives with a mental illness can learn more about symptoms, medications and problem solving with a free 12-week course offered by New View Society in Port Coquitlam.

By: John Kurucz-The Tri-Cities Now
Posted Feb 26 2015

With a guitar slung across his shoulder and in a room full of his peers, Mark Bottomley feels at ease. Sitting in a quiet room at PoCo’s New View Society headquarters, Bottomley wants others to feel that same way — about him and others like him.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia more than a decade ago, Bottomley spent time at Riverview Hospital before becoming a member of the society, which helps those with mental health struggles find a path to recovery and wellness in their day-to-day activities.

“We’re not bad people at all,” Bottomley said. “We’re taking medication to help us feel a bit more relaxed. We’re not bad people at all. We’re just like everybody else. Schizophrenia is just a name. We’re all equal.” Bottomley was at the facility on Mary Hill Road Wednesday as part of a nation-wide campaign called the National Campus and Community Radio Association’s Homelessness Marathon, which saw 30 campus and community radio stations across Canada raise awareness around homelessness and mental health issues.

Locally, Simon Fraser University’s campus station, CJSF 90.1 FM, partnered with New View for the day-long event, which featured live music, storytelling and a chance for those accessing services to share their stories.

While Bottomley was there to provide some musical entertainment, he was also in a setting that makes him feel accepted. “The people are so friendly here and you’re dealing with people who are in the same situation as you,” he said. “It really makes you feel good. I enjoy getting up every morning and facing the day.”

J Peachy is a former member of the society who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2004. He met Bottomley during one the society’s popular Friday night offerings — a communal coffeehouse-type of jam session — and they bonded over their mutual admiration for six strings.

While Peachy is no longer a member of the society, he keeps coming back as part of his ongoing recovery to help pay it forward and give strength to those facing the same challenges he once did.

“The definition of yourself is kind of thrown up in the air when you’re diagnosed with a mental illness,” Peachy said. “There’s a certain authenticity that you have to realize, and this is the community I can relate to regardless of where we all come from before. It’s like we are all spirit warriors, and this is the healing tent.”

New View operates on a by-referral basis, with referrals coming by way of a family physician or through the Tri-Cities Mental Health Office. Once accepted, members are offered a series of social, community, recreational and employment supports.
And membership covers the entire spectrum of age and social status.

“Just about anybody at any time in their life could come through our doors,” said Susanna Walden, New View’s community relations and marketing coordinator. “Nobody is not at risk of their life unravelling, and people tend to think that could never happen to them. But we serve people who at one time owned a business, living with their families. They were managing perfectly fine, but before they knew it, things were coming apart at the seams.”

CJSF 90.1 FM programming director David Swanson headed up his third campaign on Wednesday, after organizing similar efforts in Vancouver and Surrey. While he acknowledged that solving the issues of homelessness and mental illness are complex, offering a platform to talk about the issues on radio is both empowering and enlightening.

“That’s the strength of radio — storytelling,” he said. “Storytelling plays a big part in building understanding, which then leads to empathy and compassion. We want to know from these people where their issues started, where they are now, and where they hope to go.”