Support society can help sufferers, families — (The Regina Leader-Post)

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The Regina Leader-Post

Pamela Cowan, Leader-Post

Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Maritza Tello’s personal hell began while she was a first-year student at the University of Saskatchewan and it lasted six years.

Feeling depressed, the university student went to a psychiatrist and received some anti-depressants.

“In the third week I had a psychotic episode — I lost complete awareness of reality and everything totally changed. I was terrified. I thought that I was going to die because my thoughts were coming very fast,” Tello said during a lunch break at the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan’s annual conference and 25th anniversary celebration, which was held Tuesday at the Delta Hotel.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, rational thinking was impossible for the then-24-year-old who suffered from delusions and horrific hallucinations.

“The doctors couldn’t find a medication that worked for me so I struggled with reality and psychosis for six years … When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, the psychosis took me to another dimension of life and time,” Tello said.

While she was participating in a drug study in Calgary the right medication was found for her and the past 13 years have been kinder.

“In the last six months I’ve changed medication so I’m even better,” Tello said.

Now 42, she is a peer support worker at the Phoenix Residential Society. Tello is forthcoming about her disease so people understand that mental illness requires help, not unlike a broken leg.

“Anybody can get schizophrenia. People with status, rich or poor — it knows no boundaries,” she said. “We need peace and serenity with who we are and people need to understand that we are good people. The illness is not us, it is a sickness.”

Progress, including improved medication, has been made in treating schizophrenia, said Anita Hopfauf, the society’s executive director.

“We work more with families than people with the illness,” Hopfauf said. “We started out as just a few concerned family members getting together to form a support group and it has really grown into a large organization.”

About 200 Saskatchewan people belong to the society, which advocates on behalf of schizophrenics.

“We need to accept people with mental illnesses and to show compassion and understanding for those people who are suffering with a really difficult disease,” Hopfauf said. “Sometimes it’s harder to live with the stigma than the illness.”

© The Regina Leader-Post 2007