Meeting of the Minds Brings Together Physical and Mental Wellness

MarĀ  18 2015

The fourth annual Meeting of the Minds: Promoting Recovery and Wellness for Individuals and Families Impacted by Mental Illness took place on March 3rd bringing together members of the Spanish speaking community, healthcare professionals as well as family members and individuals living with mental illness. Nearly 50 people braved the snowy weather to make it to the North York Council Chambers in order to get information about nutrition and wellness for individuals living with mental illness taking antipsychotic medications.

The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) partnered with the Hispanic Development Council, the Latin American Education Network and Woodgreen to present this event.

“SSO has learned a lot from the Spanish speaking community,” said Mary Alberti, CEO of SSO, in her opening remarks. “Reaching out to diverse communities has helped us connect to new people and find ways to better address the needs of people with different cultural backgrounds. This event is very important to the growth of our organization and to continue to provide the best services for individuals and families in Ontario.”

The evening started off with a video profile of Paulo, a 24 year old man living with schizophrenia. He talked about his journey to wellness and how the encouragement and support of his family helped him become more independent. He emphasized the importance for people living with mental illness to stay positive as one of the keys to recovery.

Speakers included Dr. Taryn Tang, Manager of Research at SSO, who discussed her study about Latino/Hispanic youth living with schizophrenia and depression. The findings highlighted the need to increase discussion around mental illness and decrease stigma which often acts as a barrier to treatment. “Our study found that Latino youth living with mental illness experienced shame and silence which may have implications for seeking out treatment,” she said. “Immigration status and the gap between generations are unique factors affecting the mental health of Latino youth. Treatment should be specifically tailored to provide the best care for this population.”

Dr. Michael Sarin, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto captivated the audience speaking about the causes and prevention of metabolic syndrome, which is a condition that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and weight gain that can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. While schizophrenia itself can cause metabolic syndrome, the condition is often a side effect of antipsychotic medications. Speaking from personal experience, having a son living with schizophrenia and treating people on antipsychotic medications, he stressed the importance of exercise.

“Exercise is medicine!” Dr. Sarin said enthusiastically. “People with schizophrenia want to get fit. It’s important to treat mental and physical health concurrently in order to get the best results.”  

Linking to Dr. Sarin’s talk, Maria Ricupero, Registered Dietitian at the Toronto Rehab Institute discussed how eating well can help fight metabolic syndrome. “The key thing to remember is to have foods on your plate that are fresh and are colourful,” she told the audience. “Ask yourself if there is a plant based food on your plate and start to slowly make changes to your diet to incorporate more fresh items and whole foods.” She also discussed some of the traps people often fall into when trying to stay healthy such as consuming too packaged much fruit juice or energy bars.

The evening ended with questions from the audience, asking what they could do to help loved ones with schizophrenia get active even when they didn’t have the desire to. Dr. Sarin suggested that walking is a great place to start, especially in groups where individuals living with schizophrenia won’t feel alone and can motivate one another. Members of the audience left that evening with helpful knowledge and the desire to continue to live a healthy lifestyle.

Watch a retrospective of Meeting of the Minds here.