This post is the latest in a series of articles from guest bloggers. Each week experts and activists in fields of homelessness and mental health explore some of the issues raised by a Here At Home film.

From NFB interactive, Here At Home is a cutting-edge documentary experience that offers a look inside At Home, a radical experiment to end chronic homelessness. Led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the experiment is the largest of its kind in the world. The theory it’s testing: there’s a way to end homelessness for people with mental illness and it starts with giving them homes.

For today’s post we matched the Moncton film, “Open Sky” with Mary Alberti, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. Alberti has over twenty years’ experience in the non-profit sector.  She joined the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario in 2001, following work in the community and mental health fields, and the policy and government sector.

In this film we meet Anthony, an individual who is living with schizophrenia.  Anthony has been homeless and lived in shelters, but with the support of the At Home/Chez Soi initiative he has the opportunity to live in a one-bedroom apartment and then later relocates to a cooperative farm.  Anthony talks about his life story, mentioning that initially he didn’t believe his diagnosis of schizophrenia, and that the voices he heard he thought were the spirit world communicating with him.  The film introduces us to Anthony at a point in his life when he’s quite stable, he’s on medication, working at the coop farm and starting classes at university.

Anthony’s story mirrors many of the issues the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) encounters on a routine basis.  Each individual’s journey toward recovery is a personalized one and typically includes both high and low points.  Social supports, such as housing and friends are just as crucial to the recovery as medical and mental health supports.

But Anthony also embodies the statement that the SSO shares with all: with access to treatments, services and supports individuals living with schizophrenia and psychosis are able to lead fulfilling lives.

The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario is a province-wide charitable organization that was founded in 1979 by Bill and Dorothy Jefferies to build awareness about serious mental illnesses and to support families and individuals living with these illnesses.  Since its grassroots beginning, the SSO has expanded and now provides support and services to individuals, families and communities affected by schizophrenia and psychosis.  These include education initiatives; awareness, information and knowledge building programs; advocacy; youth-oriented programming and a diverse research portfolio; all geared to breaking down stigma and making a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities who are living with schizophrenia and psychosis.

One of the largest obstacles the SSO, individuals and families living with schizophrenia face, is the stigma and discrimination associated with this illness.  While any mental illness must battle public misconceptions, schizophrenia faces a wealth of prejudice and discrimination and initiatives like Here At Home/Ici, Chez Soi, which shed light on the reality of individuals who live with mental illnesses, help fight these.  This film also helps support the message that the SSO works hard to communicate – that individuals living with schizophrenia, are not their diagnosis, they are individuals who, like the rest of society, have hopes, aspirations and goals.  Just as individuals living with physical illnesses are not and should not be defined by their disease, individuals living with mental illnesses are more than their diagnosis.