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Schizophrenia a misunderstood illness, an Alberta expert says

Red Deer Advocate - 10/15/2018

"See me, not my illness."

That's the theme for the seventh annual campaign kickoff for Schizophrenia Society of Alberta in Lacombe on Nov. 3.

Wendy Bonertz, Schizophrenia Society of Alberta's provincial program director, said the event will be hosted in Central Alberta for the first time.

TSN host Michael Landsberg will be the guest speaker at the event at Lacombe Memorial Centre, which will also feature a networking reception, live music by an Alberta singer/songwriter Hailey Benedict, a three-course dinner, and a live and silent auction.

Bonertz said Landsberg is a one of Canada's strongest advocates for those living with mental illness.

"He lives with depression and anxiety disorder himself and when he started speaking about his own experiences with mental illness it helped others to break their silence, and even seek help, and be more comfortable in talking about their illnesses," she said.

This year, Bonertz is hoping the campaign raises $150,000 – a number slightly higher than last year's $120,000.

Funding has been difficult with the downturn in the economy, so the organization is looking to raise "a little bit more this year," Bonertz said.

But the event is not just to raise money, but also awareness.

"Schizophrenia is a very misunderstood illness."

The money goes towards reducing the stigma and discrimination around the illness.

"The portrayal of people with the illness in the movies is seen as violent and it's not realistic and people are much more likely to be victims of violence," Bonertz said.

That false portrayal leads to people with the illness feeling isolated.

Ninety six per cent of the people living with schizophrenia report experiencing discrimination in their communities – in finding employment, housing, and occasionally from their friends and family, said the provincial program director.

One in 100 people worldwide live with the illness.

"So in Alberta that would be about 42,000 people," she said. "As the population grows that number will grow."

The illness does not discriminate, said Bonertz. "It affects men and women equally, economic, educational backgrounds – none of that comes into play."

The money raised as part of the campaign goes towards education and support programs for those living with the illness as well as their family members across the six branches in the province including the Red Deer branch.

The Schizophrenia Society of Alberta in Red Deer provides supportive housing to people living with the illness. There are 53 housing units in total in Red Deer and Edmonton. Thirty two of the 53 are in Red Deer.


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