Radio show to spotlight advocacy for people suffering mental illness

By Mike Ludwig
Athens NEWS Campus Reporter
Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

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WOUB listeners who set their radio dials to 1340 AM at 1 p.m. this Sunday will hear the words of Austin Mardon, a world-renowned geographer and recent recipient of Canada's highest civilian honor, an investiture into The Order of Canada.

He is also a schizophrenic, having been first diagnosed with the disease in 1992.

The same radio program that Mardon appears on, "Conversations from Studio B," also has featured interviews with local residents who suffer from mental illnesses, and experts and advocates who work with people afflicted with mental-health issues. The show is broadcast at 1 p.m. on the fourth Sunday of each month.

After accepting and dealing with his own condition, Mardon worked as an activist and advocate for people suffering from mental illness and disability in Canada and abroad.

Mardon claims that mental illness is an often misunderstood social issue, and negative social stigmas have made the process of recovery difficult for people who suffer from mental disorders.

"The fear and stigma prevents them from seeking treatment and receiving treatment," Mardon said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. "It's important not to discriminate against people with schizophrenia, and allow them to get housing and encourage them to take their medications."

Mardon said that significant advances in modern medicine have made it possible for people suffering from mental illnesses to live normal, happy lives as opposed to being prisoners in asylums or ostracized in their own communities.

"Medication is very important for schizophrenics," Mardon said. "With medication, people can have hope, participate in society, and even get married and have children."

Mardon said that he first suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress associated with a 1986 expedition to Antarctica after he got in some "trouble" with "Soviets in Moscow," and he was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Mardon recovered with the help of progressive treatments and modern medication. He now teaches at universities, is working on two academic books, and advocates for mental-health issues with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Mardon's upcoming appearance on WOUB is part of "Conversation from Studio B," a series of monthly radio programs sponsored by the Athens chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. OU professor Thomas Walker, a member of the local NAMI chapter's board of directors, presents the series. Walker is the father of a schizophrenic child.

Last month Walker decided to double his program's airtime in light of a recent media controversy over the presence of mentally ill students and faculty at OU. On his program Walker noted that the controversy arose after the local media reported that OU graduate student Jonathan Bebb, who has been accused of stabbing to death his father, OU history professor Phillip Bebb, has a history of mental illness.

This news prompted an OU employee to write a letter to the editor of the The Post, criticizing university administrators for "welcom[ing] students 'with a history of mental-health concerns' in the front door" without taking enough precautions.

On the Oct. 19 edition of "Conversations from Studio B," Walker reported that 7 percent of the OU student population suffers from schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar disorder or other mental illnesses. Walker estimated that the campus has 200 people with schizophrenia, and said that many of them find aid and relief through the OU Office of Institutional Equity. For the show, he also interviewed an "out-of-the-closet" schizophrenic and Milt Greek, an OU Computer Services project leader.

"If there's someone who's concerned about people with known histories of mental-health concerns on campus, that would include me, and yet I am a viable, productive member of society and this community," Greek said during his interview on WOUB.

Greek said that, though schizophrenics in need of treatment may have severe delusions, they are often sensitive and creative people who are much more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else.

"I am very concerned about violence in our community," Greek said. "So the question becomes, since mental illness is a reality and violence is a reality whether there is mental illness or not, how do we approach mentally ill people to try to keep them stable? How do we get the services and medication that we need so that, like myself, they can be full-fledged, productive members of society?"

Pete Wuscher, an openly schizophrenic local activist who works in Adult Recovery Services at Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare, said that people with mental illnesses need a community that understands and accepts them in order to recover.

"There is definitely a stigma that affects other mentally ill people because they don't want to be identified with murders and rapists, so it becomes a hurdle for people who need to get treatment," Wuscher said.

Wuscher said that Athens has many public programs and organizations dedicated to treating people with mental illnesses and raising awareness about the issues they face in the community. Local groups such as NAMI and Dual Recovery Anonymous and facilities such as the Gathering Place all help community members recover and find stability.

Wuscher is active with the Consumer Empowerment Committee, which aims to help people with mental disabilities find work and volunteer opportunities.

"I think that one of the things that is really becoming clear these days is that things like 'meaningful activity' either working or volunteering, is really critical in long-term recovery," Wuscher said. "A lot of people kind of go back and forth and in and out of the hospital because they don't really latch onto the community in any meaningful way."

In September, Wuscher participated in the Walk the Walk for Mental Health Awareness and Support, which he helped create eight years ago.

For more information about mental health and disability services at OU, visit To listen to Milt Greek and Austin Mardon's interviews, as well as other installments of "Conversations from Studio B," visit

Austin Mardon, CM
Telephone: 1-780-378-0063
Post Office Box 1223, Main Post Office,
Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA,
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