Chris Sandy, a BC Schizophrenia Society Foundation (BCSSF) volunteer, has generously offered to once again match all donations made before January 31, up to a total of $10,000! 

“Forget you ever had him.”

I can still remember hearing those words from the doctor I went to in Ontario, when I was seeking help and care for my son. He described my son’s condition as “having leeches in his brain.” This doctor’s advice was to find someone to take him – some institution to put him in – and to “forget I ever had him.” 

My heart broke a little bit that day. This was the level of understanding and compassion around schizophrenia in the 80s. You can imagine how I felt when the doctor told me, as his mother.You see, both of my sons have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. My eldest, Frank* (I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy), was diagnosed first, following a terrible motorcycle accident. 

Frank was on his way back home after visiting with family when he crashed into a farm truck that pulled out in front of him.He was wearing the most expensive helmet that money could buy, but still, it cracked right through.Frank insisted on going back to work after the accident, but by then he had started to show more and more symptoms of schizophrenia – including trouble sleeping. My other son also developed similar symptoms later on in his life.

I remember one time when I was talking to Frank on the phone. The moment when he told me that he never slept anymore – and that his employer was concerned because he had begun to act very strangely at work.

We tried hard to find a doctor who could tell us what to do. A neighbour recommended we look for a psychiatrist. But back then, it was hard to find any information or any help with mental health issues. Eventually we were able to find a psychiatrist, and my husband, Frank, and I all went together to see him. Frank met with him first alone…

Afterwards, the doctor spoke to my husband and me privately. That’s when he said, “See if you can find some place that will take him and forget you ever had him.” 

And that was all the help we got. In those days, that was the kind of attitude and thinking people had towards those living with schizophrenia.We also used to hear…

“Families cause schizophrenia. Mothers especially.”

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? So that’s where we were, back in the 80s. There was so much misinformation. So much ignorance. 

Another time, a friend told me her own story. Her son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the doctor had asked to speak with her husband. 

She was delighted that the doctor wanted to make sure that everyone in the family received the right information about schizophrenia and how to care for somebody with it. But when her husband came home, he told her what had actually happened…

“Well, he told me to go home and pack my things and my son’s things, and get everybody out of that house. He told me we needed to get away from you.”

You see, if you get a diagnosis of cancer, you could to some extent know where to go and how to get some help. But we had no help at all. No matter where we turned. 

My daughter moved to British Columbia and she was taking an evening course about schizophrenia. It was given by a woman named Dr. Norma Calder, and she sent me notes from her class. Desperate, my husband and I decided to move our family out to BC to join her. 

Packing hope into our suitcases, out we came.

Things were better here, but it was still hard to find understanding and care. One time, my daughter, was on her own with Frank when he wasn’t well. Desperate for help, she took him to the hospital in Vancouver. But all she was told was “Well, it seems like he’s got someone who cares for him, so I think you should just go home.” 

She told me that she begged the doctor to explain what was wrong with her brother, and how she could help him. Eventually, Frank reached a breaking point, and his symptoms became too hard for him to handle without more help.

One of the administrators told me, “He’s one of the worst cases we’ve ever had.”

But they were there to help, and he was admitted to the hospital.Frank really liked being there. And eventually – thankfully – his health improved.

Finally diagnosed and in treatment, both of my sons have been able to manage their symptoms of schizophrenia through medication, despite the side effects.

I’m incredibly grateful that I still have my two boys! I just wish there had been more understanding and compassion about schizophrenia years ago.But things are much better now. And we owe a huge debt of thanks for that to Dr. Norma Calder.

I got to know Dr. Calder when we moved to BC. In fact, I was one of the first volunteers to work with Dr. Calder in the very early days of the BC Schizophrenia Society. When my daughter first met Dr. Calder, she told her all about her own family – she had two children with schizophrenia too. Dr. Calder told her about the help that was available – and explained how medications could help those with schizophrenia. And my daughter shared that all with me before I was able to join her. Dr. Calder also told us about the organization she was trying to set up to support people with schizophrenia and their families. So when I moved to BC, I got involved too. 

Like Dr. Calder, I felt strongly that we didn’t want any other families to feel as alone, as desperate, and as unsupported as we had felt.

We wanted people to know that there are families going through what they are going through. And that there are ways to find the help you need. 

Forty years ago, there was nothing set up to help people like us, so we had to do it ourselves. And that was the very beginnings of the BC Schizophrenia Society. And people desperately seeking help reached out to government officials. One government official in particular received letters upon letters filled with pleas from families asking for support for their loved ones living with serious mental illness – many living with schizophrenia. And this official reached out to Dr. Calder for help. 

We contacted these families and arranged to meet with them in groups of five to ten, often in someone’s home over tea and cookies. And together we felt less alone. We were able to share our journeys with one another, other families who were also walking along the same path.

Eventually, I established the Sunshine Coast branch of the BC Schizophrenia Society. I worked hard to help this community better understand schizophrenia, and spent countless hours educating doctors and families in this community. 

Thinking back to how hard it had been for me to find help and information, I would plaster posters everywhere I could – letting people know that they could come to us. People were desperate for support. Family support groups that started out with three or five people, grew and grew. 

Eventually we had monthly educational meetings where we’d invite a speaker to present. It was a great help when we could invite doctors who would speak briefly and then answer questions. 

I feel that we owe a lot to Dr. Calder for the work she did all those years to support and educate – to bring people together. Now the organization which she helped start – over tea and cookies – is the leading source of support for families and caregivers caring for people living with schizophrenia and serious mental illness across BC. From information on schizophrenia, to resources about where to find help – to public advocacy for better supports and services – the BC Schizophrenia Society has become everything we dreamed it could be. 

And the greatest thing it offers… is exactly what was offered to me during those dark, confusing times… a reason to hope. Thank you, my friend, for being a supporter of the BC Schizophrenia Society. Your gift helps families provide care for their loved one living with a serious mental illness. And you, too… give them a reason to hope. 

With deep appreciation, 

Julie Skippon

P.S. With Chris’ match, your gift doubles! Please join me and give as generously as you can today!