For many people in Roberta (Robbie) Shea’s world taking that first step is a giant leap of faith.
Through her work with the clients of Martin House, operated by the local branch of the B.C. Schizophrenia Society, she often physically reaches out to help people help themselves.
“For example, people with schizophrenia, if they’re having hallucinations the world can be a very scary place so I will literally go somebody’s house and say let’s take this first step into the big wide world together and we will,” said Shea. “Maybe it will just be a coffee the first time and maybe the second it will be with a group and it goes from there. Next thing you know, it’s ‘I think I want to find a job.’ The more things people experience the less they are afraid of them.”
Shea was initially a paid staff member but when funding fell short she continued to do the job which has become so important to her and the people whose lives she helps improve.
While her position ended as a result of the lack of money, Shea and others are doing their best to keep Martin House alive.
To that end, Thursday evening the Martin House Mad Hatter Bash dress-up fundraiser will take place at the Best Damn Sports Bar at 260 Martin St.
“We don’t get any government support and we help about 1,800 young people (16-30 years old) and these are the kind of things we have to do to keep this very necessary program running,” said society branch president Sharon Evans.
“The Mad Hatter Bash seems like a really fun event and small amounts (donations) gratefully accepted, large amounts really gratefully accepted.”
Martin House programs are aimed at people at an age when many forms of mental illness begin to manifest.
“It is very crucial to help then because many times people don’t get intervention until they’re older and unfortunately that can be too late,” said Shea. “To me it doesn’t matter what the problem is. They will tell me they have this or that and I tell them, ‘I don’t remember what your diagnosis is because I don’t care.’
“You have to listen to them, to who they are as a person and work with them.
“Everyone wants to be out in society and have a very fulfilling life.”
Whether it is finishing high school, beginning college, finding a job or just learning the basic life skills, she allows each to progress at their own pace.
Other activities involve socialization with various events such as movies and recreational pursuits.
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness is still very prevalent but Shea and Evans hope events like Thursday’s Bash can help end that.
“Yes, it is about raising money but it’s also about raising awareness and understanding. Knowledge is power, the more people understand about mental illness, the less stigma they will place on people who have it,” said Shea. “We look at somebody with cancer and we have so much compassion and empathy, however, many still look at somebody with mental illness and think ‘what’s wrong with them?’”
Tickets are $20, which includes a burger, fries, a beverage and door prize entry. There will be a silent auction, 50/50 draw and prizes. There will be prizes as well for best costume.
Action gets underway at 6 p.m.