A reason to hope...the means to cope.
In this blog we have a Q&A with Andrew Stewart who is the Director of Operations and Programs for the British Columbia Schizophrenic Society (BCSS). The BCSS is a non-profit organization founded in 1982 by families and friends of people with schizophrenia. Since then, BCSS has grown into a province-wide family support system. They are dedicated to supporting and educating the public, raising funds for research and advocating for better services for people with schizophrenia and other serious and persistent mental illness.
Last year commUNITY was happy to partner with the BCSS and deliver custom logoed masks to many of their donors as a thank you for their support. In speaking with the organisation we wanted to find out how they and their clients have been dealing with the pandemic. As expected, it's been a tough go, but of course the human spirit wins in the end.
- In what ways is the Pandemic affecting your clients?
The pandemic has changed the everyday lives of families affected by schizophrenia in many ways. Some families have not been able to attend our programs or access our services in-person. The pandemic has increased isolation, making it harder for them to get the support they need and to provide care for their loved ones. COVID-19 has made it harder for some people living with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses to adhere to their medications or access healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses. It has also been challenging for some because some safety guidelines have echoed or reinforced existing symptoms they may be experiencing or are trying to combat, I.e. increased isolation or people avoiding them.
But within any crisis, there are opportunities. For example, through the adaptions that many of our Regional Educators have made, we have been able to reach and provide services and programs to more people than before. In a number of regions, people who have not been able to access our services because they are not able to attend in-person, live in remote areas, etc., are now able to join support groups and classes by participating virtually. And many of these families live in smaller communities where services are often limited.
- Do many of your clients have trouble adhering to the safety guidelines?
Good question, we don’t have a concrete answer for you. Based on anecdotal information from psychiatrists, some people living with schizophrenia have a hard time using masks because it can trigger symptoms of their psychosis, as well as increase feelings of claustrophobia, suffocation, and anxiety. However, this depends on the person and the symptoms they experience.
- What is the general level of concern about contracting Covid-19?
Some of the overarching concerns relating to COVID-19 from our families is worry about who would provide care to their loved ones should they contract COVID-19. Often, the responsibility of ensuring that a person adheres to treatment falls upon parents or other family members – they are responsible for ensuring a loved one living with schizophrenia is taking their medications, and are often monitoring that person’s behaviour to identify potential indicators of relapse.
We recently hosted our first virtual Annual General Meeting and had two psychiatrists speak to how COVID-19 has affected families and individuals living with serious mental illness in BC. You can find the information on our website, www.bcss.org.
- What supports are you able to offer them?
We have been offering virtual support to families in this time of need through telephone, email, and other online platforms. During this period, BCSS has provided more one-on-one support with families to match their need. BCSS is continuing to offer regular family support groups across the province, education and support through our Strengthening Families Together program, and presentations about schizophrenia and other serious mental illness. And of course, our Regional Educators are still providing information and resources tailored towards the needs of individuals who contact them.
- How have your educators been affected?
Our BCSS Regional Educators are often family members themselves, or providing care to their parents and families. COVID-19 has added the stress of balancing their own health and safety, while still meeting families and individuals to provide support. They have been managing wonderfully in this constantly changing environment, and are working hard to adjust our programs and services to align with current government restrictions. They have also embraced the use of technology and conquered the learning curve required for them to be able to create and offer programs and services online. They are constantly considering and thinking of new ways to ensure that families and individuals affected by schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses receive the support they need in this crucial time.
- Is there a message/thought you would like to share with us?
British Columbia Schizophrenia Society is a non-profit organization founded in 1982 by families and friends of people with schizophrenia to provide “a reason to hope…the means to cope.” We are dedicated to supporting those affected by schizophrenia or other serious mental illness, educating the public, and advocating for better care and services.
1 in 100 people across Canada live with schizophrenia and in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction problem. By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have—or have had—a mental illness. It’s important to remember that we’re all doing our best in these challenging times, and that we don’t always know what is happening in another person’s life. So please empathize and be kind to each other.
Thank you Andrew. A wonderful message to end on about empathy that I know we can all learn from. There is no downside to being kind!
Stay safe and wear a mask...with a filter!