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Neuroscientist shares story of recovery at mental health conference

Hospitalization and medication aided presenter’s journey with schizophrenia
Erin Emiru
Neuroscientist Erin Emiru wrote a book about her first-hand experience with schizophrenia. photo Dan Toulgoet

Erin Emiru didn’t worry about how schizophrenia would shape her future when she was at her worst.

“I was just dealing with the distress of living with hallucinations and delusions and paranoia,” she said.

Emiru even had a psychiatrist in Vancouver tell her she’d probably never be a productive member of society.

But after numerous hospitalizations and medication trials Emiru, nee Hawkes, completed her master’s degree in neuroscience in 2005, published her memoir When Quietness Came: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey with Schizophrenia in 2012, developed deep friendships, married last summer and started working as a peer support coordinator at a Vancouver Coastal Health mental health outreach team.

She is co-presenting a session called “The Power of Peer Support, Stories of Recovery” at the ninth annual Family Conference: Family Involvement in the Mental Health System, April 26.

Susan Inman proposed the inaugural conference a decade ago when she had just joined Vancouver Coastal Health’s family advisory committee after her daughter had recently emerged from a two-year psychotic episode related to schizoaffective disorder.

The two years her daughter suffered cognitive losses, saw a counselling psychologist who helped her to try to unearth the family dynamic at the root of her problems and was newly diagnosed with learning disabilities, even though she was starting secondary school, were “nightmarish.”

Finally, Inman’s younger daughter was hospitalized for being divorced from reality, diagnosed with schizophrenia and appropriately medicated.

Inman, a secondary school teacher and her husband, a professor, found accessing information about what their daughter was going through difficult and felt isolated. But attending a massive convention on mental health, mostly attended by parents in Minneapolis, inspired Inman to organize a one-day conference in Vancouver.

The conference provides cutting edge, science-based perspectives from doctors and researchers and presentations by service users and family members.

Keynote speaker, psychiatry professor Dr. Bill Honer, will discuss the brain and mind concepts of psychosis and the other keynote speaker, Dr. Evan Wood, will discuss structural barriers to quality care for patients and families facing problems with substance dependence.

There will be sessions on suicide prevention, obsessive-compulsive disorder and resilience for family caregivers.

Inman says people with mental illness, their family members and clinicians need to keep educating themselves.

“We need to be in really solid communication and this is one place where it can happen,” she said. “Often, clinicians only see a family, if they even have any contact with them, when they’re in crisis and they’re probably not at their best. Here, they get to be side-by-side people in small breakout sessions, at lunch, in discussions with families who are just regular people coping with extraordinary circumstances.”

Inman is pleased to see the accomplished Emiru co-present a session.

Even as a fledgling neuroscientist, the effects of schizophrenia long prevented Emiru from understanding she was seriously ill and needed medical intervention.
“She basically says thank you for putting me against my will into a psychiatric unit and medicating me against my will,” Inman said. “She says she would not be alive if we didn’t have this good B.C. Mental Health Act, so it’s really important to have a consumer voice like that.”

The conference runs 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Vancouver General Hospital.

Individual tickets are $45, $130 for a family of four and an additional $15 for a networking lunch.

Pre-registration is recommended. For more information, see annualfamilyconference.com.

crossi@vancourier.com
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