Hope for young people living with mental illness
University is meant to be a time of learning, making friends and gaining independence. Instead, for 19-year-old Samantha Mercanti it had become a scary experience. It wasn’t the course load or living away from her parents, but the onset of hallucinations, paranoia and social withdrawal that changed her life forever.
“I was sitting in my residence common room when I felt like my floor mates were staring at me. I put my food down and ran to my room. I went to sleep and I woke up a day and a half later – scared, distraught, and nervous.”
Unaware of the complexity of what was happening Samantha reached out to her parents, Sam and Roma Mercanti. “My parents sensed something was wrong. I told them I was hearing voices. I had lost touch with reality, but still, I refused to see a psychiatrist because my media-induced perception was that I would be locked away forever.”
This was the beginning of living with schizophrenia.
Putting university on hold, Samantha began receiving care at the Cleghorn program at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton – an early intervention program that provides rapid and specialized assessment, treatment and rehabilitation for people aged 14 to 35 experiencing their first episode of psychosis.
Samantha credits the Cleghorn program and her parents for helping her to get well and learning to manage and live a fulfilling life despite her illness. It has been 10 years since Samantha was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“I consider myself a survivor like any other person with any other illness. I am a survivor of schizophrenia.”
Samantha, 29, who works part time for her father’s company in Hamilton, is once again enrolled in a university program and is sharing her story publicly with the hope of encouraging others who are suffering from a mental illness to get the care and treatment they need.
Samantha has become an advocate for the Hospital’s vision for a new West 5th Campus that will embrace early intervention strategies and focus on youth and young adults. “There is a great need to improve awareness of services available for young people and to provide them with the best possible help they need, when they need it.”
Her father agrees. Recently Sam Mercanti, founder of CARSTAR, the nation’s largest network of high-quality collision repair centres, made a $100,000 corporate commitment to the Hospital on behalf of the company’s family franchisees. Sam’s gift will support research to understand how mental illness affects young adults.
“CARSTAR is proud to be a community partner of St. Joseph’s Healthcare, where people receive treatment in a compassionate and supportive environment and where patients and families living with mental illness have renewed hope for the future.”