Michael Crain helps dispel myths about mental illness

Photo by Brice Ferré www.briceferre.com

By his own admission, Michael Crain wears many hats. He is a peer researcher with CREST.BD, a collaborative research team studying the psychosocial issues in bipolar disorder. Peer research is an innovative research method wherein intended members of the research target group play an integral part in the research process, becoming experts within their field of expertise. Crain himself co-authored a publication that explored the contribution of Individual Placement and Support to recovery from serious mental illness. His personal experience with bipolar disorder has proven invaluable in mental health research.

Crain is a shining example of one person’s ability to reframe what has traditionally been considered a disability. Despite or perhaps because of his mental illness, Crain has emerged as a figurehead in Vancouver’s mental health advocacy movement, helping to dispel the myths and stigma associated with mental illness. In a society that frequently ignores or overlooks a burgeoning mental health crisis, Crain’s efforts are admirable.  

Crain warmly welcomed me and photographer Brice Ferré into his home one sunny Sunday afternoon. Eloquent and honest, he candidly discussed his history with mental illness over mugs of hot ginger tea. 

Peer research is an innovative research method wherein intended members of the research target group play an integral part in the research process, becoming experts within their field of expertise. Crain himself co-authored a publication that explored the contribution of Individual Placement and Support to recovery from serious mental illness. His personal experience with bipolar disorder has proven invaluable in mental health research.

Crain is a shining example of one person’s ability to reframe what has traditionally been considered a disability. Despite, or perhaps because of his mental illness, Crain has emerged as a figurehead in Vancouver’s mental health advocacy movement, helping to dispel the myths and stigma associated with mental illness. In a society that frequently ignores or overlooks a burgeoning mental health crisis, Crain’s efforts are admirable. 

Crain warmly welcomed me and photographer Brice Ferré into his home one sunny Sunday afternoon. Eloquent and honest, he candidly discussed his history with mental illness over mugs of hot ginger tea.

Michael, you started your academic career at Okanagan University.

That's right, it's now known as UBC Okanagan in Kelowna.

What were you studying there?

I majored in history. I think, like a lot of people, showed up there not knowing what on earth I was going to major in, and spent a couple of years treading water, trying to figure it out, and then decided to go the route of history.

During that time you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

In my last year of university, in the exam period in December, I was going through a really stressful time. Breaking up with my girlfriend, working evenings, taking full-time courses, I had an exam period where I had two exams on a Monday, and then two exams on a Wednesday, and a couple of term papers due just before that. So I was more or less locked in my apartment, working and working and working, and unfortunately had a manic episode, and it went unnoticed until I showed up for an exam because there wasn't anybody around to observe it.

So what happened?

I went to the exam, and it finally registered for me that something wasn't right because I couldn't read. I wasn't actually capable of reading the page. And so I went to the front to the professor, and I said, Can I talk to you outside? and we went outside, and I collapsed. And so he took me to the nurses' station on campus, and the nurses' station on campus saw that I got to the hospital, and I was from there admitted to the psychiatric short term stay.

Did you receive treatment after the first episode?

Yes… In the eight days that I was at the Psychiatric Short Term Stay in Kelowna, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At the time I didn't have a family doctor in Kelowna because I was going back and forth between there and Toronto, and so I still had my family doctor in Toronto. So I was assigned a family doctor, and then was also assigned a family psychiatrist.  And so the psychiatrist saw me a couple times in the hospital. He was a very kind man. And then when I got out of the hospital, started seeing him regularly thereafter.

What helped you in your recovery journey?

Well, I think at the time in Kelowna, what helped more than anything was psycho-education.  I had no idea what it meant to have Bipolar Disorder in the sense of how to manage it. I think I knew from the time that I was probably about 16 or so that there was something not quite right.  And I know that I tried to reach out and get help at a couple of different times, but it just didn't click for whatever reason. The biggest thing that I struggled with before being diagnosed was Depression. And also feeling very suicidal. But after being diagnosed, I think what really helped me was just trying to get my head around what is this, how do I try to be well? Things along those lines, and the hospital in Kelowna was great at just sort of planting seeds along those lines, which is I think in some respects surprising for a small town, but really really good.

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