Austin Mardon, PhD, CM, FRSC, graduated with a major in geography from the University of Lethbridge in 1985. The following year, at age 24, he was investigating meteorite impacts 170 km from the South Pole as a junior field member on an Antarctic meteorite recovery expedition sponsored by NASA and the National Science Federation. He received the U.S. Antarctic Service Medal for his work. However, the extreme hardships of the expedition affected him mentally and physically. While he went on to earn master’s degrees in science (South Dakota State University) and education (Texas A&M University) and published a number of articles and books, his health issues persisted. At the age of 30 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Although some of his abilities are compromised by the disease, Austin earned a PhD in geography from Greenwich University, Australia; continued his remarkable publication record, including articles in both Science and Nature; was elected an International Fellow and Corresponding Fellow of the Explorers Club of New York; and was inducted into the International Academy of Astronautics. In 2014 he was elected into the Royal Society of Canada, the pre-eminent academic society of Canada.
Equally impressive has been his work on behalf of the mentally ill. In addition to giving countless interviews to the media on the topic of mental illness, Austin has published articles about faith and schizophrenia, homelessness, medication, and income support. He has provided leadership as a member of the board of directors of both the Edmonton and Alberta chapters of the Schizophrenia Society, and for a number of years he was coordinator of the Alberta Mental Health Self-Help Network. “I hope to soon see the day when schizophrenia is treated like any other disease and is finally detached from the stigma that makes a difficult burden to bear even worse,” added Austin.
Austin has received a number of awards, including the Order of Canada (2007). Others include: the Flag of Hope Award (2001) and the Bill Jefferies Family Award (2007) of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada; the Distinguished Alumni Award of the University of Lethbridge (2002); the Presidents Award of the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (2002); the C.M. Hincks Award from the national division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (2007); and the Medal of Honour of the Alberta Medical Association (2010).
A popular member of the Speakers’ Bureau of Alberta, Austin has publicly assisted the medical profession by supporting development of policy positions that have helped medical providers treat those with mental illness.
Austin is currently Assistant Adjunct Professor with the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre, and was recently appointed as an Assistant Adjunct Professor in the University of Alberta Department of Psychiatry – the first time someone with schizophrenia has been appointed to such a position.