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Mental Health Series Article 3 - Living a Full Life

John McFarlane works at the Canteen at the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital
Living a Full Life

Date: 2010-09-28

This is the third of four articles in a series about people living with mental health and/or addiction challenges in our community

While Raija Begall and John McFarlane are very different from one another, they have many things in common. Both are living full and productive lives and both are living with mental illness.

Raija is a remarkable young woman. A fourth year student in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program at Lakehead University, she has written a book, "Breaking Up With ED", chronicling her thoughts and emotions as she struggled to overcome a serious eating disorder ("ED"). A member of the Youth Advisory Group for the Eating Disorders Program at St. Joseph's Care Group's Sister Margaret Smith Centre (SJCG - SMSC), she is passionate about increasing teens' knowledge of eating disorders through awareness.

As her understanding of herself increased, Raija recognized that there was an element of depression that carried through her life and believes it was present before the eating disorder. She recently sought help from SJCG - SMSC and is thankful that she did.

With new goals always in mind, Raija helps with anti-stigma campaigns for depression and self-harm. "Kids need to know that it's not okay to feel bad all the time," she explains. "There is help available and they need to reach out for it."

Keeping in touch with her counsellors and support group at SJCG - SMSC remains a priority for her. With their help, a supportive family and good friends, Raija looks to the future with optimism.

John is no less inspiring. For years he struggled to fit into the world around him, denying there was anything 'wrong' with him. As he explains, "You can't understand what is going on, why certain things are happening to you. Your reality is completely different than the one that everyone else lives in."

In his early 30's when he was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia, John was hospitalized at St. Joseph's Care Group - Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital (SJCG - LPH) for a short time and prescribed a medication that, as he says, "put me in sync with the rest of the world". An extended period as an outpatient gave him the opportunity to develop a well-rounded lifestyle.

John tries to make sure that he eats well and gets enough rest. He enjoys part-time work in the Canteen at SJCG - LPH for its social contact as well as the structure that it gives his life. He participates in several activities, including downhill skiing and fishing. He swims at the Canada Games Complex and spends time with friends.

"If I run into problems or have a relapse, I would seek help in a flash," he says."I don't expect that to happen, but if it does, I'll accept it and get help. I know it's available and that's very comforting to me".

In Thunder Bay, there is a committee dedicated to public education regarding mental health and mental illness - the final article in this series will focus on the work of the Mental Health Network.

To reach St. Joseph's Care Group - Communications Office call 807.768.4440.

Persons with mental illness can make significant contributions to society. Next week, we'll hear of two such persons.

By Jessica Cordes
Jessica Cordes is the Public Education Co-ordinator for St. Joseph's Care Group.

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