The Lethbridge Herald
Wednesday A, Wednesday, December 28, 2005, p. a4

Distance learning can open new doors for mentally ill

Gallant, Sherri

Education via the Internet has been shown to help those with schizophrenia
boost their self-esteem and improve their lives


Lethbridge Herald

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 Athabasca.

"The one fellow was very ill but after he got his Bachelor of Commerce
degree, he managed to get a full-time job and is actually off AISH (Assured
Income for the Severely Handicapped) completely," says Mardon.

"There are multiple elements that will improve self-esteem immediately."

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 environment.

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

Diane Herrick, chapter director of the Lethbridge Schizophrenia Society,
agrees distance learning can offer benefits for those with the illness.

"I've known a couple of people who've done this," Herrick says. "And it
allows them 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 for.

Before Mardon's diagnosis, his academic and personal life was blooming. He'd
spent time as part of an international expedition (1986) to Antarctica
studying meteorites 170 kilometres from the South Pole. He's a space
researcher, world explorer and tireless advocate for people with
schizophrenia, but because of his illness and the effects of medication, he
lives on the limited income AISH provides.

Recently, though, he became a part-time instructor for two online

While earning a degree can lead to improvements in life for some, too often
the 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 drug?"

Even though Consta involves only two injections a month, the cost is about
$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.

Category: News
Uniform subject(s): Psychology and human behavior
Length: Medium, 615 words

Doc. : news·20051228·LH·014122005¥1Mental¥1health¥1di

Austin Mardon, CM
Telephone: 1-780-378-0063
Post Office Box 1223, Main Post Office,
Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA,
T5J 2M4
Web site: