Youth raising awareness of schizophrenia

Iris Reception takes place Tuesday, May 23.

Victoria resident Cameron Webster was diagnosed with schizophrenia a month after his 19th birthday. Contributed photo

It was a month after Cameron Webster’s 19th birthday when he started hearing voices.

The voices would say negative things to Webster and gossip about him, whispering that he was a bad person and a failure in life. Within weeks, those voices grew harsher and more hateful. As a result, he couldn’t hold a conversation and withdrew from social situations.

“I was really stressed out and very quiet and pensive in social situations,” said Webster, a Greater Victoria resident.

Shortly after, the paranoid delusions started and were so severe he had to be hospitalized.

But while he was in the hospital, the paranoia didn’t stop.

Webster was afraid if he went to sleep nurses would complete drug tests on him and inject him with unknown diseases. He also thought there were microphones and cameras hidden to get confessions out of him.

Shortly after, Webster was diagnosed with psychosis and later schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a biochemical brain disorder which affects a person’s ability to determine what is reality and what is not. Researchers say it’s difficult to pin point what causes schizophrenia, but believe it could be a mix of genetics and one’s environment that triggers the disorder.

While Webster admits he wasn’t happy about the diagnosis, he was anxious to get help.

After he was released from the hospital, he opted to take part in the B.C. Schizophrenic Society’s peer support program in Victoria. He was paired with a man in his late 20s or early 30s, who also suffered from mental illness.

Once a week for an hour, the duo would get together to chat about the disorder and discuss sports, TV shows and history.

After 13 weeks in the program, Webster felt he was taking control of his life again. He went through the program for a second time and found the voices in his head weren’t as loud and daunting as they once were and felt the disorder no longer ruled his life.

“(The program) has helped a lot. It’s good to know other people have gone through it and have moved on, and are leading productive and fulfilled lives,” said the now 21-year-old, noting he still has mild paranoia but it’s manageable. He also co-facilitates a mental health group for youth between the ages of 15 to 25 at the Quadra Village Community Centre Thursday nights.

Now, Webster is hoping to raise awareness and break down the stigma of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses during a fundraiser next week. The Iris Reception takes place Tuesday, May 23, and is a fundraiser for the society that provides services to people with mental illness.

Hazel Meredith, executive director of the Victoria branch, said funds raised will support the peer support program that Webster went through, as well as a program that helps people develop their own wellness plans.

“The more stories like Cam’s get out, the earlier people will reach out for help and know that it’s okay to do so,” Meredith said.

“People are sometimes afraid about what their families and friends will think because they don’t know what will happen…that’s not how the new direction of mental health is going.”

The Iris Reception takes place at the Hotel Grand Pacific from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $65 and can be purchased at bcssvictoria.ca.

The Victoria branch is part of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada that provides support to individuals with schizophrenia and their families across the country.

kendra.wong@vicnews.com