Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, pp. 36-37
There are times in life, especially if you have a mental illness, when you need supports in place to help you move forward. For some, these supports need to be financial. Being able to access some funding to help achieve goals you have set for yourself can be a crucial step in moving towards realizing your own potential. For some, academic success is important; for others, it is having a chance to acquire skills that could lead to future employment. For others still, it is leisure or hobby activities that can help pull themselves out of the doldrums. Whatever the chosen goals, it is important to have some choices during these times and the Education and Leisure Fund at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority can help. To be eligible for the Education and Leisure Fund you must be a resident of Vancouver and the course must be in BC. The following stories describe how different individuals have been able to benefit from this fund:
Robert was diagnosed at 37 with schizoaffective disorder. Life had also been difficult for several years before receiving medication. He is now in the last term of a full-time, two-year Mechanical Engineering program at BCIT. Prior to his enrollment at BCIT, he took a general drafting course and worked happily as a draftsperson until he decided he required more challenge. He attributes a large part of his success in school to finding the right combination of medications. Over the last year and a half, along with student loans, Robert has found resources for funding his education. Besides receiving the top amount allowable of $400 from the Education Fund, he was fortunate to qualify for a Royal Canadian Legion Bursary. He did mention money was tight over the past year and half, but that he is looking forward to better times when he graduates. His income will sizably increase after graduation.
Tanya accessed the Education and Leisure Fund and took a belly dancing course. She has had bipolar disorder since the age of 15. With the help she received from the Education Fund, she was able to take this course which both suited her schedule and her health considerations. The class was small, and provided good physical exercise, with individual attention. If she chooses, Tanya can take the advanced course that could lead to employment. She liked the ease of the fund’s accessibility and was impressed with the non-judgmental manner in which they accepted the nature of the course. Tanya is also working on a Provincial Instructors Diploma course and found the belly dancing to be a relaxing break from her other academic demands.
John was in and out of the hospital starting in 1987 and was diagnosed later in life with schizophrenia. He feels he has finally achieved stability after many years and after finding the right medication. John started out taking the Peer Support Work Training offered at the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. He was then offered and accepted several six-month contracts at local mental health teams. John likens peer support work to the 12-Step Alcoholics Anonymous program: people who have experienced life with mental illness help others who are also living with mental illness. John is now on the wait list for taking the Community Mental Health Worker program offered at Douglas College. He applied for and accepted a student loan. The $400 from the Education Fund helped defray the cost.
Wendy has experienced many traumas in her life. As a young girl during the Second World War, she witnessed dead soldiers; some of these were her relatives. These memories have re-occurred in her dreams and appeared as invasive pictures in her mind. After many years, she realized she needed help in dealing with these traumas. After finding medication that worked, she was diagnosed with depression. Recently, the Education and Leisure Fund was able to honour Wendy’s request for funding an all-day workshop: Making Peace with Your Past. The workshop was conducted at the 411 Seniors Centre and speakers presented many tools and ideas to deal with trauma and to find tranquility. Wendy is working with these options to have a more peaceful inner life.
Roxanne, a single mother of two, has bravely stepped out to follow her passion of working with seniors in gerontology-based recreation. She found a federally funded program called newStart that helped her explore careers and acquire computer skills. She took out a student loan and also accessed the Education Fund. The program moves at a demanding, full-time pace and she will have a great sense of satisfaction when she has completed it. When she has time, she is volunteering at a local nursing residence. This allows her some practical and realistic time with the residents. Roxanne feels confident in finding employment when she graduates. We write about these individuals who have accessed our fund in order to show you the diversity of interests and the options available to the consumer. The fund does not prescribe; the applicant chooses. When the choices have been made, for whatever the interests of the applicant, the funds can help. A financial jumpstart can be available in a nonjudgmental framework. Our primary restriction is that the funds are available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
About the authors
Heather is Manager of the Education and Leisure Fund, which is part of the Consumer Initiative Funds
Janet is a Consumer Support Worker with Vancouver Community Mental Health Services of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority