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Serious About Schizophrenia: A Family Perspective

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Caring for someone suffering from a mental illness is often stressful, but when the individual suffers from schizophrenia, these effects can be especially difficult to cope with as a family member. Symptoms of the illness, such as delusions and hallucinations can be difficult to understand and cope with.

Ontario Shores understands the importance of family involvement during the recovery journey and formed The Family Council in 2010, which offers opportunities and engages families to take an active role in advancing care and service delivery for a positive patient and family experience.

Steve Cosentino, one of the founding members of the Family Council is a valued member of Ontario Shores and is affiliated with the hospital through his family’s journey with schizophrenia.

“Schizophrenia came into my world 14 years ago when my son was diagnosed. He was just like every other kid his age finishing high school, playing sports and on track to attend university.  Unfortunately the symptoms of his illness prevailed which led me to take him to a psychiatrist who ended up diagnosing him with schizophrenia.”

Steve has seen first hand the impacts of the illness and continues to reduce stigma by providing other family members with insight to help speed up the learning curve, by providing information and his own experience in various areas such as the associated issues of the illness, community treatment orders and consent and capacity board hearings. Steve works to prepare family members with the challenges they may face and makes the journey easier for them to deal with.

Not long after his son’s diagnosis, another close family member was diagnosed with a schizophrenia-related illness and experienced similar symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. Since treatment, she has done extremely well, finished her degree and ultimately had a brilliant recovery.

“I don’t have a mental illness, but I suffer from it,” says Steve. “When you have a family member with a mental illness, it affects everyone in the family. It changes everything from relationships to family get togethers. I’m a father and that’s a badge I will wear forever. I try my best to make sure my son is taken care of properly and able to live a comfortable life to the best of his ability. I’m happy he’s at Ontario Shores because I know he’s well taken care of - staff know who he is, he is safe and eating properly and ultimately the hospital is doing their best to improve his quality of life.”

Whenever possible, Steve takes his son on leaves of absence, where they can enjoy time out in the community together, whether it be at their home in Whitby or in Haliburton on the lake.

Steve discovered mental illness runs in his family after learning about his great grandmother’s battle. Stigma surrounding mental illness prevented him and his family from understanding the genetic predispositions that ran in the family, but now there is an open discussion about schizophrenia to help reduce the stigma and to ultimately help other families who are going through the same battles.

SERIOUS ABOUT SCHIZOPHRENIA - Ontario Shores worked with Ipsos Marketing to gauge society’s views on schizophrenia in honour of the specialty mental health hospital’s upcoming 100th anniversary. Click here to learn more about the study which inspired this #MindVine series, which looks at the chronic brain disease from multiple angles. 

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