The Story of Dave Sandy

My name is Chris Sandy and I recently joined the Board of the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society Foundation (BCSSF) because it is doing something that no other government agency or organization does.  It’s giving people “a reason to hope…the means to cope.”

One in 100 British Columbians are diagnosed with schizophrenia, but so many more live with it….their parents, brothers, sisters and other family members...all struggling to understand, support and be there for their loved ones.  We all know someone whose life has been affected by mental illness.

BCSSF programs and research save and transform lives and this is only possible because of the generosity of donors like us.  That is why I am asking you to consider making a gift this holiday season, and I will personally matching any donation you make to B.C. Schizophrenia Society Foundation until December 31st up to a total of $10,000.

This means that any special gift you make will be doubled, for example $50 or $100 will become $100 or $200.  Every gift makes a difference.

There may be someone you want to honour with your donation.  I am making my gift in memory of my little brother, Dave Sandy.  After struggling with schizophrenia for nearly 30 years, Dave took his life. 

Dave was a happy kid, upbeat, sincere, and well-liked by everyone at our school in Peterborough, Ontario.  He was happiest when playing sports, and I was always impressed with my little brother’s athletic ability.  We would play touch football together and he would have a huge smile on his face.  Dave could motivate our whole team to get a touchdown, time after time.

When Dave was in his late teens, our family started to notice a change in his behavior. He became distant and paranoid.  He would rarely leave the house and sometimes he’d say and do strange things that didn’t make sense.  It was a confusing and difficult time for all of us; there was a lot of tension and guilt.  We kept wondering which one of us caused Dave to suddenly behave this way.

Now we know nobody was to blame; Dave was in early psychosis.  

Years later, Dave was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia.  As you likely know, what happened after that wasn’t pretty.  There were many sleepless nights. Dave suffered from the side effects from either too much or not enough antipsychotic medication. 

I most remember our first trip to the hospital to admit Dave.  My dad, brother and I were walking with Dave from the Emergency Room to the Psychiatric Ward.  From a thousand games of touch football with my little brother, I knew when he was getting ready to run.  Sure enough, as soon as we were outside, Dave took off.  As I was running after him, all I really wanted to do was run with him – to run as fast and far away as we could to get away from schizophrenia. 

Whenever Dave was home from the hospital, my mother took care of him.  Mom was an extraordinary and patient caregiver and without her, Dave would have been institutionalized.  There were no programs that we knew of in those in those days to assist families.  Mom learned as much as she could, but there was no one she could turn to for knowledge and support.

Over the years, Dave would improve for short periods of time, only to slide back into psychosis again.  This cycle was very hard on Dave, on my mom, and on all of us.  We always kept hoping that there would be a new treatment or medication, anything that would give Dave a chance to live his life.

When he was 46, Dave suddenly became very depressed and within a week, took his life. Dave’s passing has left a huge, gaping hole in our family that can never be filled. 

It’s been six, long years since Dave has died, after decades of battling with schizophrenia – I wish he was here today.  I wish I could spend more time with him.  He was a great guy.

Today, I have a teenage son and sometimes when I look at him, I can’t help but see my 17 year old brother.  My wife points out that, without realizing it, I sometimes call my son ‘Dave’– a young man with his whole life ahead of him and the potential to do great things.  I’m often filled with fear that my son’s bright future will be taken away and I will lose yet another loved one to schizophrenia.

This is why I am doing all I can to make sure that other people do not lose their children, brothers, sisters or other family members to this devastating disease.  I must protect my son, and even my grandchildren, from the torment that Dave endured.  By volunteering and donating to B.C. Schizophrenia Society Foundation, I know that I am saving lives.  

Families and their ill loved ones are waiting far too long for programs and services they desperately need.  And we know that families in crisis do not have time to wait.  At the same time, researchers are seeking to improve early diagnosis, investigate impacts on the brain and find better treatments.   

Perhaps, if there had been an organization like B.C. Schizophrenia Society Foundation in Peterborough Ontario when Dave and I were growing up, we might still be playing football today…and doing so with our sons.

Please consider making a gift today and I will match any donation you make from now until December 31st up to a total of $10,000.

Sincerely,






Chris Sandy
Volunteer Board Director


P.S.  Please join me by giving today.  Every donation counts!

Huge Thank You to Pacific Blue Cross!

On behalf of B.C. Schizophrenia Society’s Board of Directors, we would like to extend our sincere and heartfelt thanks for the charitable contributions of Pacific Blue Cross. Their ongoing support of our public education programs has had a great impact on spreading awareness and understanding of severe mental illness in British Columbia.

This year Pacific Blue Cross contributed $10,000 towards B.C. Schizophrenia Society’s Partnership Puppeteer Program: a puppet show performed by individuals living with mental illnesses, designed to educate elementary school children about mental illness.

By educating children about mental illness at a young age, we create pathways to care for students who may be experiencing early symptoms of psychosis. Targeting our efforts to reduce stigma at the elementary school level allows us to have a stronger chance to make a meaningful impact, shift children's thinking with respect to mental illness and foster an informative, compassionate environment where stigma can no longer successfully be perpetuated.

Without the generosity of donors like Pacific Blue Cross, crucial programs like BCSS' Partnership Puppeteer Program would not be possible. Thank you!




2015-2016 PROGRESS REPORT: THE 256-CHANNEL ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAM SYSTEM FOR SCHIZOPHRENIA RESEARCH


2015-2016 Progress Report: FROM THE 256-CHANNEL ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAM SYSTEM FOR SCHIZOPHRENIA RESEARCH

Thanks to the support of B.C. Schizophrenia Society Foundation, the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry has successfully completed the purchase and implementation of a 256-channel electroencephalogram (EEG) system to advance the Department’s schizophrenia research program. This state-of-the-art equipment will enable UBC schizophrenia researchers and their colleagues in mind and brain health research to develop more nuanced models of the relationship between symptoms and brain function, increasing the speed with which new therapies can be developed and tested for the benefit of patients with schizophrenia and other brain disorders in British Columbia. 

Data collection for research using this system started in September 2015 for four schizophrenia-related studies, all being conducted by Dr. Todd Woodward, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Schizophrenia Laboratory.


Functional brain networks underlying non-pharmaceutical interventions for psychosis A study aimed to contribute to the body of evidence supporting methods for bringing strength and organization back to the brain networks affected in psychosis through the use of group-based education and training sessions. 


Cognitive and brain mechanisms underlying disconfirmatory evidence integration in delusions in schizophrenia

Schizophrenia patients with delusions have difficulty integrating new evidence that contradicts current beliefs, and this may contribute to the maintenance of delusions. This study investigates whether these brain networks are impaired in schizophrenia patients with delusions, compared to patients without delusions and healthy controls.


Decision-making and schizophrenia and the salience networkThis study investigates whether salience networks used in decision-making are impaired in schizophrenia, compared to healthy controls.

Neurological networks underlying working memory in psychosisThe purpose of this study is to develop a better understanding of the brain networks underlying persistent cognitive impairments (present throughout the course of schizophrenia) in working memory.

[Full progress report available]

B.C. Ministry of Health Provides B.C. Schizophrenia Society $3 Million to Help People Affected by Schizophrenia Gain Reasons to Hope and Means to Cope

L to R: David Halkowski (President, B.C. Schizophrenia Society), Health Minister Terry Lake (B.C. Ministry of Health), Jane Thornthwaite (Parliamentary Secretary for Child Mental Health), Deborah Conner (Executive Director, BCSS), Bryn Ditmars (BCSS)

On National Schizophrenia Day, Tuesday, May 24, Health Minister Terry Lake announced that the B.C. Ministry of Health will be providing B.C. Schizophrenia Society (BCSS) a total of $3 million funding over the next five years. This generous funding will help BCSS meet our mandate of providing support and education to families and their ill relatives suffering from schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses; increase public awareness and understanding of mental illness; advocate on behalf of families and people with serious mental illness for improved services; and promote research into the causes, treatment, and ultimate cure of schizophrenia.

“This funding will literally save lives, in addition to reducing hospitalizations and homelessness across the province,” said Deborah Conner, executive director of B.C. Schizophrenia Society. “We have families and friends who are seeking access to support for their loved one reaching out to BCSS. Today, the B.C. government has answered their call. On behalf of families across B.C., we are grateful."

Health Minister Terry Lake announces that the B.C. Ministry of Health is providing $3 million funding for BCSS programs and services for the next five years.
Currently, there is a need for more equitable access to services in B.C. for the mentally ill and their caregivers. Through this funding, new outreach educator positions are being created to help provide direct services and emergency support for families and their ill relatives in variety of underserved communities across B.C., including parts of the Fraser Valley, Okanagan, Northern B.C. and Vancouver Island. We’ll also be reinstating services in key areas across Vancouver, Richmond and Sunshine Coast where services had been previously reduced due to funding cuts.

“If unsupported, there can be many health, social and economic consequences associated with schizophrenia and psychosis,” said Lake. “Caregivers provide immeasurable support to loved ones who are dealing with serious mental illness, and by helping take care of their own mental wellness, we are also helping them provide love and support to those struggling with these illnesses.”

Through BCSS outreach educators, who work closely with local health authorities, BCSS is able to provide important frontline and emergency support, which includes listening to family concerns, referring to other services, assisting with access to community supports, troubleshooting and helping families navigate the mental health system.

All eyes are on a video for BCSS' Strengthening Families Together - First Nations Edition.
This funding also allows BCSS to offer programs like Strengthening Families TogetherStrengthening Families Together (First Nations Edition), and family support groups family peer support in more communities across B.C. Additionally, BCSS educators can deliver education and support through school programming, and a Partnership Education program, which is geared toward professionals such as policing agencies, human resource departments, hospital staff and universities. BCSS educators also provide information to the public at community events, raising awareness of mental illness and directing people to resources in their local communities.

This network of educators, facilitators and family support workers will help advance B.C.’s mental health strategies. BCSS is excited about this partnership with the B.C. Ministry of Health in moving these initiatives ahead to support all B.C. families and friends living with the impacts of schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses.

All these programs provide critical education and resources for families and communities in need. We at BCSS would like to extend a huge thank you to Health Minister Lake and the B.C. Ministry of Health for their help in providing a reason to hope and a means to cope.

--- Other photos from the event ---

President of the BCSS Board, David Halkowski, thanks Minister Lake and the Ministry of Health for their support.
Bryn Ditmars, diagnosed with schizophrenia at 23, now speaks on behalf of BCSS to help people better understand what is schizophrenia. His family also benefited greatly and found hope from BCSS programs and educators.
B.C. Schizophrenia Society is looking forward to our partnership with the B.C. Ministry of Health in moving these initiatives ahead to support all B.C. families and friends living with the impacts of schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses

Housing Challenges for the Seriously Mentally Ill: Panel Discussion hosted B.C. Schizophrenia Society

Please join B.C. Schizophrenia Society as we facilitate a special discussion between government and other local not-for-profits on housing. Each speaker will speak from their expertise and the discussion will focus on the challenges that people with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses face when it comes to housing.

When:    Sunday, June 5, 2016 
              1:00 P.M. – 3:30 P.M. 

Where:  Fletcher Challenge Theatre 1900
              SFU Harbour Centre 
              515 West Hastings Street
              Vancouver, B.C.

Who:     Darrell Burnham, CEO, Coast Mental Health
              Dominic Flanagan, Exec Dir, Supportive Housing and Programs, B.C. Housing
              Carol Bellringer, B.C. Auditor General
              Sue Hammell, Opposition Spokesperson for Mental Health and Addictions
              Dr. John Higenbottam, Clinical Psychologist, UBC and Douglas College

Some questions to be considered throughout the discussion:
  • What does it mean to provide a home for people who have a serious mental illness? What does it include?
  • What are the best settings for people with schizophrenia that will decrease the likelihood of relapse?
  • Who is part of their mental illness care team and what levels of daily support are needed?

People with serious mental illnesses require different levels of support as part of their treatment plan. From medication and types of therapy to healthy lifestyles and building a community, all these factors influence the potential outcome of the illness. Through the experiences of our members, we know that having a sustainable, safe and supportive housing makes a difference. It allows for early recognition of potential relapses and helps ensure that people with schizophrenia lead productive and meaningful lives.

This event will be made available province-wide through a live webinar. For those joining us in person, please stay for refreshments after the presentation. 

For more information and to register, please contact prov@bcss.org or 604-270-7841.

We hope that you can join us in building more reasons to hope and creating more means to cope.

256 Channels of Hope for Families with Schizophrenia


Monica Wolter, UBC

Most people enjoy the sound of laughter, but not Wes Pahl. When Wes hears laughter, he is tormented by the thought that people are laughing at him or about him. He suffers from schizophrenia, a debilitating disease that causes delusions, hallucinations and disorganized thinking—a disease that causes people like Wes to live in conflict with the world around them.

Two of Wes’s three brothers also live with schizophrenia. As each sibling was diagnosed with the disease over a two-year period, their father and mother, Gerhart and Penny Pahl, faced overwhelming challenges. For the first time in their lives, the Pahls were involved with the criminal justice system and forced to navigate a complicated medical system, all while living as a family with an incurable illness.

Like many people dealing with schizophrenia, Gerhart turned to the BC Schizophrenia Society (BCSS) to help his family manage their new challenges. In 2005, he became Director of the BCSS and eventually Chair of the Society’s Foundation. Through his involvement with the BCSS and with other families affected by the illness, Gerhart became convinced that mental health research is the greatest hope for identifying more effective treatments and ultimately a cure for this devastating disease. 

Gift of discovery and hope
This hope led the BCSS Foundation to donate $75,000 to the UBC Faculty of Medicine to enable the Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Psychiatry to purchase a modern electroencephalograph (EEG) to advance schizophrenia research. The EEG is a cutting-edge piece of equipment resembling a netted swim cap peppered with 256 electrodes—almost 200 more than traditional versions of the technology. Although these electrodes are small, they have the powerful ability to directly measure neurons firing across the brain.

This gift is the most recent pledge of support in a three-decade long partnership between the BCSS and the UBC Faculty of Medicine, including the establishment of the Jack Bell Chair in Schizophrenia, which has catalyzed important discoveries in schizophrenia, from basic science to clinical treatments.

Dr. Todd Woodward, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, is one of the researchers who will benefit from the EEG equipment. Dr. Woodward’s research focuses on identifying ways to augment the pharmaceutical treatment and management of schizophrenia – a critical area of study, as approximately 30% of people with schizophrenia do not respond well to medication alone and it is not understood why some benefit while others do not. 

Dr. Woodward, who has been supported by the BCSS since 1999, was one of the pioneers of metacognitive training – an approach that teaches people with psychosis to recognize and correct misleading thoughts – which has been shown to reduce the severity of schizophrenia symptoms including delusions. This intervention aims to therapeutically rewire certain areas of the brain to help patients manage their specific symptoms.

This EEG technology will enable Dr. Woodward to more effectively measure changes in the neural pathways that cause symptoms of psychosis, which will inform the development of new methods to help people with schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness rewire or correct these brain pathways.

“This equipment is a major advance,” says Dr. Woodward. “We can track the timing and anatomical signature of a thought or cognitive process better than ever before. My hope is that our findings can be turned into clinical treatments that help guide diseased minds to follow healthier brain patterns. We may be only a year or two away.”

The 256-channel EEG has already been used to measure brain function in more than 90 people across the Lower Mainland, and shows great promise to expand our understanding of the brain in both diseased and healthy states.

In addition to benefiting Woodward’s lab, the EGG will also be used by other UBC schizophrenia and psychosis researchers.

“Our entire schizophrenia research program will benefit greatly from access to the EEG and will help to generate research findings that contribute to our growing knowledge about schizophrenia. These findings will have a direct impact on the people who are struggling with schizophrenia now or in the future,” says Dr. William Honer, Professor and Head of the Department of Psychiatry, Director of the UBC Institute of Mental Health and Jack Bell Chair in Schizophrenia.

Widespread research and treatment advances are exactly what families like the Pahl’s hope to witness. “One day we parents will pass away and it is critical that our children have the tools to permit them to function independently,” explains Gerhart. “Although these tools don’t exist yet, they are being developed through research.”

Moving forward, Dr. Woodward hopes to expand this modern EEG technology to a number of hospitals throughout the Lower Mainland. He emphasizes that the ability to collect data from these hospital sites and unify the way schizophrenia research is conducted could lead to a world-class research effort initiated in BC.


Partnership Opens The Door To New Schizophrenia Research

By pointing the way to better diagnosis and treatment – and hopefully an eventual cure – research is vitally important to improving the lives of the more than 40,000 British Columbians living with schizophrenia.

“The only way schizophrenia is going to be ‘beat’ – if you will – in the long term is through more understanding, going from basic chemistry up to helping people cope in their day-to-day life,” says Gerhart Pahl, chair of the BC Schizophrenia Society Foundation*.

“We believe heavily in research, and for those of us who have the illness in our family, we are looking to research to someday beat this disease.”

Funding research is one of four areas of focus for the Society – along with education, advocacy, and support for families. This investment, which provides direct benefits to individuals living with and affected by schizophrenia, is supported in part through a strategic partnership with the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR ).

Since 2013, the two organizations have jointly funded three BC researchers whose work is helping to mitigate schizophrenia’s human and economic toll.

University of Victoria neuroscientist Dr. Leigh Anne Swayne, a 2014 MSFHR Scholar, is the latest beneficiary of this partnership.

Swayne’s research is focused on two main areas. The first is the role that complex proteins called ion channels play in brain development, injury, and repair. The second is how these same ion channels transmit the electrical signals that underlie the beating of the heart and how mutations in the proteins in the ion channel can lead to certain heart conditions.

“Increasing our understanding of the roles of ion channels in the developing brain might give us further insights into neuro-developmental diseases such as schizophrenia and autism,” Swayne says.

“I’m very excited about this award, most importantly the positive impact it will have on my research program.”

“We essentially double what we can do” For the BC Schizophrenia Society and its supporting Foundation, the partnership helps stretch donor contributions even further through the availability of matching funds.

“If there was a project that needed a hundred thousand dollars, we would have to come up with a hundred thousand dollars,” says Pahl. “But now, with our relationship, we would perhaps pay fifty thousand dollars, and the Michael Smith Foundation would fund the other fifty.

“We essentially double what we can do, so this is a very enticing and important part for us.”
Pahl also notes that partnering with MSFHR allows the Society to support research without having to organize a peer-reviewed competition and coordinate award administration, both of which can be burdensome for small organizations.

“We don’t have this expertise and capability, but we still wish to continue funding research. It is important to us.”

The BC Schizophrenia Society was founded in 1982 by families and friends of people with schizophrenia. Since then, the Society has grown into a province-wide family support system with 24 branches and more than 2,800 members.

In addition to supporting research through partnership with MSFHR, the Society awards annual research grants and scholarships to young researchers studying schizophrenia and related conditions. The Society has also raised the funds to endow the schizophrenia research chair at UBC.



* Note: The BC Schizophrenia Society Foundation raises funds for schizophrenia and the programs and services offered by the BC Schizophrenia Society.