News

He's a face of mental illness

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

Canadian sports journalist Michael Landsberg, left, who has opened up publicly about living with depression, poses with Brian Rose, a Norfolk man who has been selected for the Faces of Mental Illness campaign. (Submitted Photo)

Canadian sports journalist Michael Landsberg, left, who has opened up publicly about living with depression, poses with Brian Rose, a Norfolk man who has been selected for the Faces of Mental Illness campaign. (Submitted Photo)

Brian Rose says he was a little reticent about being featured in a nationwide campaign recognizing people living in recovery from mental illness. His journey. marked by tragedy, has been long and complicated.

The Norfolk man, who now lives in Oshawa, said his "mind was a tornado" in the years leading up to the day in 2010 when he shot his grandmother, 85-year-old Janina Kurzyna, and then incinerated her body in a bonfire at her farm northwest of Simcoe.

Suffering from schizophrenia, Rose was found not criminally responsible for the killing and sent by the court, in 2013, to Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby.

Speaking from Ontario Shores where he continues to receive treatment and has become an advocate for mental health, Rose said believes he may be the only person found not criminally responsible for his actions to be included in the Faces of Mental Illness campaign, now in its 15th year.

"I was a little unsure at first," said Rose of being involved. "But I feel like I'm kind of a pioneer. It's an honour to be part of the campaign."

The Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health announced this year's Faces of Mental Illness- five Canadians - in July. They were chosen from among 130 nominations.

Along with Rose, the other four "faces" include two women and two men who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses and have worked to overcome them and help others.

"It thrills me to see how much is being done each year to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, and to increase the conversations about mental health," said Fred Phelps, chairman of this year's campaign.

"These five individuals are truly inspiring, as it requires a great deal of courage to speak openly about mental illness and live in recovery as they do."

The Faces Campaign, presented by Bell Let's Talk, takes place over the next year. The Faces of Mental Illness will participate in events to help educate Canadians about living with mental illness, and the importance of mental health for all Canadians.

Darryl Mathers, communications officer with Ontario Shores, acknowledged that, given Rose's background, he was a bold choice for the campaign. But he said Rose's commitment to recovery and efforts to help others have been remarkable. Not many with complex mental illness, including schizophrenia, are able or willing to speak out, said Mathers.

Rose is a much sought after speaker who gives talks to doctors and nurses about his recovery and mentors other patients.

He has been involved at Ontario Shores in the development of its "recovery college," helping to design and facilitate curriculum for courses other patients will take so they, too, can return to society.

Rose leads a guitar group at the hospital on Wednesdays when he teaches residents how to play.

"My grandma was such an important person to me," he said. "She was my best friend for a long time. I do all this in her honour and memory. I feel it's the right thing to do."

Rose first began showing symptoms of schizophrenia in his 20s, including paranoia, depression and anxiety. He would eventually experience auditory and visual hallucinations and full-blown psychosis.

In 2010, days before he killed his grandmother, he was apprehended by police.

"I was on the road swinging a pick axe at cars and got arrested and they said I was delusional, which I was," Rose said.

He was held for 72 hours in the mental health unit in Brantford, then released, walking home barefoot to his grandmother's farm in Vanessa, still gripped by delusions. That's where he killed Kurzyna.

"I come out of psychosis two months later. Even while I was in jail I was thinking I did something right because the schizophrenia was so entrenched in my thoughts, I couldn't get around it."

Rose had 5 1/2 years of treatment before he re-entered the community. Mental health professionals check on him weekly and he comes to the hospital once a month for an injection of anti-psychotic drugs. He continues to receive treatment from psychiatrists and psychologists.

Rose, who works full-time as a shipper/receiver in a warehouse, says he feels like he's taking control of his life again.

"To finally be in a place of wellness and give back is an honour," he said. "I love life now."

Faces of Mental Illness will be featured in a national media outreach campaign, which includes short videos that will be shared with parliamentarians at an event during Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 1 to 7.

Posters and postcards featuring the stories of each of The Faces will be distributed to Canadians across the country.

mruby@postmedia.com

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