Schizophrenia support needs promoting, Nova Scotia group says

Organizers of a national conference about schizophrenia held in Halifax want frustrated caregivers and families to know there's help.

'Often people don't know that we exist,' says society director Diane MacDougall

Diane MacDougall, executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, says there needs to be better communication about social services for caregivers and families supporting those with schizophrenia. (CBC)

Organizers of a national conference about schizophrenia held in Halifax want frustrated caregivers and families to know there's more help out there than they think. 

Keith Lyon of Fredericton, who was at the conference, said he's grateful for his past and present caregiver, especially when he was in and out of hospital over a period of eight years. Now an author of children's books, he said he was once tasered by police in an effort to keep him safe.  

"The voices were telling me to stab myself, so I stabbed myself," he said.

"But [police] sat by my bed for like two hours to make sure I was OK."

Keith Lyon, now a children's book author, spent eight years in and out of hospitals because of schizophrenia. (CBC)

It was a matter of finding the right help once out of hospital, Lyon said. 

"It's hard to find resources, but once you get in the door the sky's the limit," he said.

'People don't know we exist'

According to Statistics Canada, about one per cent of the population suffers from schizophrenia. The mental illness is characterized by various symptoms that may include confusion, delusion and paranoia.

The Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia hosted the conference — called Psychosis: New Perspectives, Bright Horizons — from Oct. 27 to 28. 

Caregivers are susceptible to stress, anxiety and fatigue, society executive director Diane MacDougall said. That's in part due to a lack of communication in the health care system, she said.

"Then you need to look at how many people are affected by that diagnosis. Our typical family is four and then you have your friends and extended family, so it is rather large," MacDougall said. 

"They end up waiting for months sometimes to get the care that they receive. They end up in emergency."

Caregiver burnout

MacDougall said emergency services are fine for short-term help, but they don't always point families toward a "number of organizations" of available services across the province.

If caregivers burn out, they can't provide the right support, she said.

MacDougall pointed out that theirs is not the only organization ready to help. There are family support groups throughout the province, a high concentration of which are in Cape Breton. 

"It's my hope that people do pick up the phone," she said.

"Often people don't know that we exist." 

With files from Stéphanie Blanchet