News & Events News & Announcements 2014 Thunder Bay Forum Brings Community Together

Thunder Bay Forum Brings Community Together

The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) hosted “Living Healthy, Living Well” a community forum in Thunder Bay. More than 30 people gathered at Lakehead University for an afternoon of presentations where medical professionals and people with lived experience shared insights on how to achieve and maintain physical and mental well-being while living with mental illness.

Individuals with mental illness have higher rates of diabetes and heart disease due to medication side effects, lack of physical activity and poverty. “Individuals living with schizophrenia have a life expectancy 15-20 years less than that of the general population due in part to antipsychotic medications,” said Dr. Michael Sarin, a presenter at the forum and an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto. “Psychiatrists and primary care physicians need to expand their collaborative efforts and knowledge of each other's practices and the most current treatments to provide the best care. This forum gave patients and their families’ access to practical information and strategies to increase quality of life by discussing the role of proper nutrition and fitness with limited resources.”

The audience included individuals with lived experience, family members and service providers who were able to get practical, hands-on information from speakers. The open, welcoming atmosphere reflected the tight knit community and encouraged attendees to engage in the presentations, ask questions and contribute to the discussion.

The forum was largely organized through the efforts of dedicated volunteers from the community including Andreas Buchholtz, who was also moderator of the forum. Andreas has a brother who lives with schizophrenia and has a long history of volunteering with SSO. He is a chair of the Peace of Minds Walk, Vice Chair of the Local Volunteer Committee in Thunder Bay and has previously served on SSO’s Board of Directors. Andreas was a huge part of making the forum a success.

“My role was to lead the planning and organizing in Thunder Bay and arrange a venue, speakers, volunteers, catering and child care,” said Andreas. “It was very rewarding to see audience members help each other work through problems, share information and discuss issues affecting them – these forums are an important outlet for families.”

Speakers included Drs. Susanne Allain and Michael Sarin who spoke about mental illness and medications, registered dietician Maria Ricuperio who discussed nutrition and healthy eating, as well as Mary Berg and Michele and Terry Groulx who shared their experiences with mental illness in the family.

“It is so important for families who are dealing with mental illness to reach out to one another, whether it is in public or private,” said Michele Groulx, whose brother lives with schizophrenia.

“It was great to be in a room with people who had similar experiences as Michele and I,” said Terry. “It was a welcoming atmosphere with lots of support, dialogue and encouragement. There were moments when things got emotional and I wanted to hug my neighbor. I came away with lots of knowledge about the physical health problems people with mental illness have to deal with.”

SSO hopes continue hosting community forums to bring useful information and strategies to individuals and families around the province.