Having just joined the BC Schizophrenia Society team, I have been eager to check out its podcast, “Look Again: Mental Illness Re-Examined” — hosted by CEO Faydra Aldridge. So what better time to begin than during the Mental Illness Awareness Week, right?!

I think most people will agree with me when I say that most of us grew up misinformed about mental illnesses and their effects on families. Society often pigeon-holes mental illness into stereotypes and these misconceptions reinforce stigmatised views that stand in the way of families living with mental illnesses seeking support. My exposure to schizophrenia is limited and I have always struggled to find the right resources and the right way to support those living with serious mental illness—mainly because society tends to view schizophrenia and other serious mental illness as disconnected from the ‘normal’ world around us. BC Schizophrenia Society’s Podcast Series “Look Again,” humanizes Schizophrenia and its impacts for me, and brings it back into the ‘real’ world by busting one myth at a time.

Listening to BCSS’ CEO Faydra Aldridge talk to family members, people with lived experience of mental illness, and medical experts, I realised that the perfect way to start learning more about mental illness and its impacts on families and communities is by asking questions—lots of them! “Look Again” shares stories and voices from people who have lived with mental illness and helps us look critcially at the stigma associated with mental illness, and in the process, unlearn our misconceptions. Here are a few things that stuck with me from the first season of the podcast.

Stories of Hope and Resilience 

“Schizophrenia is not who you are. It is what you have,” says Faydra in the final episode of the series. While schizophrenia may seem scary and heartbreaking, it is only an illness. The first season underscores the fact that people with lived experience of schizophrenia and their families are so much more than the disease. If anything, they are what hope and resilience look like in flesh and blood. Be it Erin’s story about managing her symptoms of schizophrenia while completing a Master’s in Neuroscience, working, and becoming a new mom; or Jean’s frank conversation with Faydra about caring for her brother during a global pandemic—every story is a tale of persistence and the sheer will to keep moving forward.

Embracing Vulnerability with Both Arms

“Look Again” is a great reminder to not be afraid to be vulnerable. We need to realize that severe and persistent mental illness creates not only vulnerable individuals but also vulnerable communities. And one way to extend support is to open your hearts, minds, homes, and lives to embrace the possibility of being each other’s lifeboats and respond to serious mental illnesses with empathy. This series made me understand how supporting and learning about mental illness is an ongoing communal activity.

Together, we can make a difference

Mental Illness is all around us. For me, one of the main takeaways from the first season is the lesson to bridge the very palpable chasm between ‘us’ and ‘them’—“no individual is an island.” Although the families affected by schizophrenia and other mental illnesses are at the vortex—of the symptoms, the responses, the mental health system, etc.—the impacts of the mental illness radiate outwards into the whole community. The only way to soften the impacts of mental illness in society is to encourage education and awareness initiatives coupled with better training for all professionals and people engaged in taking care of a loved one with a mental illness—an effort that we as caregivers and community members need to undertake together.

The next season of “Look Again: Mental Illness Re-Examined” is scheduled to launch on Wednesday, October 27, 2021. Take a listen to the trailer for the upcoming season here.

To listen to the first season again, visit: https://www.bcss.org/lookagain/. And don’t forget to review us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen.

By: Neha Bhattacharya