The Schizophrenia Society of Alberta (SSA) kicked off their signature fundraising campaign, See me, Not my Illness, in Lacombe by welcoming former NHL Goaltender and Mental Health Awareness Advocate Clint Malarchuk to speak at a sold-out Lacombe Memorial Centre.
Malarchuk has been open about his battle with mental health issues, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused initially by an on-ice injury in 1989 where the skate blade of Steve Tuttle sliced Marlarchuk’s carotid artery during an on-ice collision, leading to him losing 1.5 litres of blood and him thinking he was going to die.
He began advocating for mental health awareness after he attempted to take his own life in Oct. 2007 with a .22 calibre rifle. The incident led to a PTSD diagnoses, which helped him realize mental illness is an illness, not a weakness.
Malarchuk said he was overwhelmed by the response he received in Lacombe.
“The organizers, the people showing up — I have been so impressed with everything,” he said.
Malarchuk hopes that his message of recovery will inspire others to not suffer mental illness in silence.
“After hearing my message — maybe they get help and come out the other side like I did. Everyone thinks they are alone, that they are the only ones and they are suffering in silence and darkness. That is why I do it,” he said.
Malarchuk was in impressed with the the Schizophrenia Society’s passion and willingness to help others
Rubyann Rice, SSA executive director, said the campaign runs until Dec. 31 and that this event has been very successful due to bringing in high-profile mental health advocates like Malarchuk and, last year, Michael Landsberg.
“We also get to hear from someone who lives with schizophrenia,” Rice added.
Over the past few years, rice has seen improvements in the way society discusses mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression disorders, but says there is still a ways to go
“Sometimes with schizophrenia it can be more challenging, but we are getting there. I have been with the society for 10 years and I’ve see a huge change,” she said.
Rice said a packed LMC is an example of peoples’ willingness to support people living with schizophrenia in the community.
“I know the people coming here are supporting us and also learning more about schizophrenia and mental illness in general. They go out into communities and talk about it, sharing what they’ve learned tonight,” she said.
The support also personally helps people living with schizophrenia.
“We know the barrier is breaking down but they, themselves sometimes don’t see that. When they come out to things like tonight, they get to see and witness this and are overwhelmed with gratitude,” Rice said.
People can donate to the SSA through their website and Rice said they are always looking for people to volunteer.
“They can go out and talk about mental illness everywhere they go. If they hear someone saying something that isn’t right, they can say, ‘Hey that’s not right. People with mental illness are the same as everybody else and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect’,” Rice said.
Rice said their next campaign will be Strides of Hope on World Schizophrenia Day (May 24).
“This year it will be mainly focused on awareness and breaking down stigma. We march through six different cities in the province and we also take donations,” she said.
Ultimately, Malarchuk hopes people living with mental illness knows there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“Everyone thinks they are the only one, but since I have been doing this I’ve went, ‘Oh my God. There are so many Clint Malarchuks out there’. It is amazing because I was the one who thought I was alone,” he said.