The Lethbridge Herald
Wednesday A, Wednesday, December 28, 2005, p.
Distance learning can open new doors for mentally ill
Education via the Internet has been shown to help those with
boost their self-esteem and improve their lives
Thoughts of navigating through
crowded university hallways is enough to keep
many people with mental illness
from pursuing their education.
But a former Lethbridge man who has a
mental illness and earned degrees both
the conventional way and through
distance education says the Internet can be
a great fit for people who cannot
cope with brick and mortar classrooms.
Austin Mardon, 43, has lived in
Edmonton for some time. An internationally
known geographer, Mardon was
diagnosed with schizophrenia 13 years ago.
A few months ago, Mardon
submitted an abstract to the Mental Health Research
Showcase called Distance
Learning at the Post Secondary Level: an
Opportunity for the Mentally ill.
His three case studies included himself
(he earned a Ph.D. in geography via
Greenwich University online); a man with
schizophrenia who earned a Bachelor
of Commerce degree through Athabasca
University, and a third man with
schizophrenia who earned a Bachelor of
General Studies degree, also from
"The one fellow was very ill but after he got his Bachelor of
degree, he managed to get a full-time job and is actually off AISH
Income for the Severely Handicapped) completely," says
"There are multiple elements that will improve self-esteem
It's the flexibility of the virtual classroom that works so
well for many
people with mental illness. Deadlines are not as tight, for
one, and the
person is able to work from home in a non-threatening
But there are downsides.
"It's not for everybody,"
Mardon says. "The disadvantage is you have to be
really self-motivated. You
have to want it and you have to be disciplined."
The other drawback -
which exists in the mainstream as well - is student
loans still have to be
paid back, even if a student doesn't complete the
Herrick, chapter director of the Lethbridge Schizophrenia Society,
distance learning can offer benefits for those with the illness.
known a couple of people who've done this," Herrick says. "And it
to work more at their own pace. Crowds can be a big issue for
some people and
it can be very overwhelming to be at a university where
there are thousands
and thousands of students.
"It doesn't work for everyone, however,
because some of the medications
people have to take can cause a lack of
motivation. You do have to be very
motivated. I also know of a few who
started, but never finished."
Herrick said the society, in partnership
with Eli-Lily pharmaceuticals, has
a grant program students can apply for
every year to have all costs
associated with one of their courses paid
Before Mardon's diagnosis, his academic and personal life was
spent time as part of an international expedition (1986) to
studying meteorites 170 kilometres from the South Pole. He's a
researcher, world explorer and tireless advocate for people
schizophrenia, but because of his illness and the effects of medication,
lives on the limited income AISH provides.
Recently, though, he
became a part-time instructor for two online
earning a degree can lead to improvements in life for some, too often
schizophrenic can end up in a state of despair.
It's estimated homeless
schizophrenics constitute .06 per cent of any given
population, Mardon says,
which means about 600 people in a city the size of
Edmonton are dysfunctional
and living on the streets.
The reason, Mardon believes, is people stop
taking their medications.
Numbing side-effects are the reason for some.
Others stop because they feel
better on their medication, which leads them to
incorrectly assume they no
longer need it. Mardon, who believes it's the
civic duty of schizophrenics
to take their medication, says the government
should add Consta - an
injectable anti-psychotic that lasts for two weeks -
to the provincial drug
"I'm involved in a study with the
University of Alberta right now," Mardon
said. "I have noticed a world of
difference. It is like I am a new man. How
many 1,900 homeless schizophrenics
in Alberta could be saved from the
nightmare of psychosis by getting this new
Even though Consta involves only two injections a month, the cost
$500 a month.
Mardon says by adding it to the provincial drug
list, the province would
save enormous societal and health-care system costs
in the long run.
Uniform subject(s): Psychology and
Length: Medium, 615 words
Austin Mardon, CM
Post Office Box 1223, Main Post Office,
Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA,
Web site: www.austinmardon.org