CANADIANS WHO STANDOUT – CARMELA SEBASTIANA HUTCHISON (71/150)
Carmela lives with her husband Bob in Irricana, Alberta. Carmela is 56 years old and uses a wheelchair for mobility. Having graduated in 1983 from the Mount Royal College Diploma Nursing Program, Carmela has a background as a registered nurse who specialized in mental health. Her professional career encompassed long-term, acute, adolescent and community mental health and psychiatric clinical settings. She has nursed in both Nova Scotia and Alberta. In 1990, Carmela sustained injuries in a rollover car accident. In 1991, she went on long-term disability after receiving a diagnosis of Multiple Personality (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID), Depression, and Post-Concussion Syndrome. Her husband Bob lives with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Carmela is President of both Alberta Network for Mental Health (ANMH) and DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) Canada / Réseau d’action de femmes handicapées (RAFH) Canada.
Carmela is committed to working for the day people living with multiplicity/DID will have the same access to treatment that other diagnostic categories do; a right they do not share with their fellow Canadians. After a critical event in the life of a friend, for whom no resources could be found, Carmela decided that the human family had to have something better to offer.
In 1996, people with disabilities finally achieved protection under the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act. That same year, Carmela became involved in the mental health consumer movement. On 11 March 2010, Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). On December 1st, 2016 Minister Dion and Minister Qualtrough made the announcement that Canada would ratify the Optional Protocol, an important part of the CRPD. It may be surprising to understand how new the achievement of human rights for people with disabilities actually is. As a society, we have a great deal of work to do in order to make the ideals envisioned in these documents match the lived experience of people with disabilities.
Carmela believes people with any disability must have the same access to the determinants of health as stated by Health Canada, if we are to achieve a lasting recovery – a right we currently do not share with our fellow Canadians. Carmela believes that our Mental Health System must offer safety, choice and accountability at every level from conventional to complementary medicine if we are also to achieve a lasting recovery. She believes both health care streams have value in restoring health. Having physical disabilities and mental illness, Carmela realizes the relationship between mental and physical health as well as the effects of stress on both. Spirituality, defined as the connection between oneself, other people and something greater than oneself is important in recovery. Having professional and personal experience with the both the mental health and physical health realms, Carmela understands the issues faced by both consumers and service providers. The lack of health equity for people with disabilities is one of the most vital areas of concerns.
Carmela provides many hours of telephone and practical support to her fellow mental health consumers. She assists people in the long process of completing necessary forms to receive their benefits. Carmela assists people to work with current mental health and social program systems in order to manage their illness and circumstances proactively. She presents educational workshops on mental illness and disability and assists in facilitating support groups. She has made numerous media appearances, been featured in “Living the Edges” a Women’s reader in Feminism and Disability by Diane Driedger. Carmela has provided input into policy at both federal and provincial levels of government.
Dr. Heidi Janz and Eva Colmers featured Carmela and her family in a documentary called “Not a One Way Street” a film about people with disabilities as family members and caregivers of other people. It is for release this fall. Carmela is deeply committed to working to improve the quality of life of mental health consumers, and all people living with a disability.
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