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Local woman a ‘face’ of national campaign

FORT FRANCES—In the midst of Mental Illness Awareness Week (Sept. 30-Oct. 6), Susan Marshall of Fort Frances was acknowledged in Ottawa through the Champions of Mental Health Awards, which celebrates the contributions of individuals to the advancement of the mental health agenda in Canada.

Part of the celebration includes the “Faces” campaign that Marshall was selected to be part of. She and six others from across Canada were nominated to publicly tell their stories.

“The campaign is meant to provide education of what it’s like to live with a mental illness,” explained Nancy Daley, educator/trainer with the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“I nominated her because of who she is, where she came from, what she has faced, and the passionate vocal position she has for the advocacy of mental illness,” Daley added.

Marshall, a proud mother and grandmother who enjoys gardening, swimming, and spending time with family, lives with bipolar disorder.

“I want people to get treatment and not be ashamed,” she stressed. “I lost a lot of years with my children because I was depressed and there’s the stigma that goes with that.

“I now have a great relationship with my kids, but I know I can’t get those years back.”

Marshall said she doesn’t want others hiding in their homes and not getting the treatment they need to enjoy life to its fullest.

She officially was diagnosed with her illness during her 20s, but she lived with it long before that.

“Since getting help, my life has been joyful—not always because I still deal with the regular stresses and strains of everyday life, but I have been able to enjoy it,” she remarked, admitting she hid from treatment for a time.

“There’s a gradual recovery, but you’re never the person you used to be,” she indicated. “But life is about growing and learning, so you’re not supposed to be the same person.”

In order to stay healthy, Marshall has to take care of herself with medication, counselling, and by living a balanced life. She must sleep the correct amount of time, eat properly, exercise, and keep a balance between her work and home time.

“For the most part, this keeps me happy, but sometimes it doesn’t work and I become depressed,” she explained. “Then I can’t articulate or speak, go to work, or even run simple errands like going to the bank.

“So I have to make plans for those times.”

But with the great support from her family, friends, and colleagues, Marshall regains her health and then is able to handle life’s stresses once again.

“And I can teach others how to do the same,” she added.

Daley said Marshall has been instrumental in the development of programs with the CMHA, which is another reason she was a prime candidate to be a “face” of the campaign.

She is the team leader of the “Can-Help” program, a consumer and family advocacy network, and is involved in the consumer survivor initiative, Sunset Country Psychiatric Survivors, which is a support network that has expanded to include chapters in Fort Frances, Dryden, Kenora, and Red Lake.

“She has dedicated herself to fighting the stigma that is associated with mental illness,” Daley stressed.

“And through the ‘Faces’ campaign, she can tell others about her challenges and successes, so others know that recovery is possible and that they don’t need to suffer in silence like she did.”

Marshall would like mental illness to be viewed by society like any other illness.

“An ideal world is one where having high blood pressure and suffering from bipolar disorder are something people would understand,” she remarked. “There are so many misconceptions of what mental illness is.

“It does not mean that the individual is a bad person, contagious, violent, or stupid.”

She no longer is ashamed of her illness and she sees just how proud her children, husband, and co-workers are of her.

“I believe everyone with a mental illness is a hero because dealing with it is tough,” Marshall said. “We’ve made some huge strides, but we can still go further.”

Marshall said when Daley approached her about the nomination for the award, she didn’t expect it to go anywhere. But after receiving the phone call in July informing her of the honour, she was thrilled.

“It’s huge,” she enthused. “I really feel I can make a difference.”

Each of the seven Canadians selected for the “Faces” campaign, including Marshall, are featured on the website (www.miaw.ca) along with their personal stories.

And just four of these individuals were chosen to be the “Faces” on the posters and bookmarks.

While she was not one of these four, Marshall still feels it is a great accomplishment.

“I want to see some positive changes in the mental health system . . . I want people to see me and see a normal person living a normal life,” she noted, adding she hopes the campaign opens the eyes of many Canadians to the realities of mental illness.

Marshall was to receive her award at the fifth-annual Champions of Mental Health Awards luncheon in Ottawa today (Oct. 3) and her daughter was going to be there with her.

Mental Illness Awareness Week was established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association and is now co-ordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.

“Face it. Mental illness concerns us all,” Marshall stressed.

(Fort Frances Times)

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