Austin Mardon, PhD, has been a public educator and tireless advocate for the mentally ill, particularly those with schizophrenia, since he was diagnosed with that mental illness in 1992. At the time he was a promising graduate student and Antarctic explorer, and the diagnosis of schizophrenia could have ended his academic career and severely limited his prospects in life. Instead, he survived many setbacks through his sheer determination to continue his studies, to make a difference, to contribute to society, and to help others.
Dr. Mardon graduated in arts with a major in geography from the University of Lethbridge in 1985. The following year he was investigating meteorite impacts only 170 km from the South Pole for two months as a junior field member on an Antarctic meteorite recovery expedition sponsored by NASA and the National Science Federation. This was a wonderful experience for a 24-year-old, and he received the US Antarctic Service Medal for his work. However, the extreme hardships of the expedition affected him mentally and physically. While he went on to earn masters degrees in science (South Dakota State University) and education (Texas A&M University) and published a number of articles and books, his health issues persisted. At the age of 30 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
This could have stopped him in his tracks, but he chose otherwise. Although some of his abilities are compromised by the disease, he has earned a PhD in geography from Greenwich University, Australia; continued his remarkable publication record, including articles in both Science and Nature; been elected an International Fellow and Corresponding Fellow of the Explorers Club of New York; and been inducted in the International Academy of Astronautics.
Equally impressive has been his work on behalf of the mentally ill. In addition to giving countless interviews to the media on the topic of mental illness, he has published articles about faith and schizophrenia, homelessness, medication, and income support in various publications. While chair of the Clubhouse Society of Edmonton, he took its annual budget from $500 to an astonishing $160,000. He has provided leadership as a member of the board of directors of both the Edmonton and Alberta chapters of the Schizophrenia Society, and for a number of years he was coordinator of the Alberta Mental Health Self-Help Network. In Edmonton and Alberta, he has become the “go-to guy” on mental health issues for media, government, and health officials.
He tries to better the lot of those with schizophrenia through public education, to which end he has met with politicians, clergy, academics, and others who are in positions to effect change. He has influenced public policy in Alberta through his service as vice-chair of the Alberta Disabilities Forum steering committee and as chair of its low-income working group; as a member of the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities; as an addiction and mental health committee member of Alberta Health’s service integration working group; and as chair of the Edmonton Champions’ Centre advisory committee. He also was instrumental in winning changes to Alberta’s income assistance program for the severely handicapped.
Dr. Mardon has received a number of awards and recognitions, including the Order of Canada (2007). Selected honors are the Flag of Hope Award (2001) and the Bill Jefferies Family Award (2007) of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada; the Distinguished Alumni Award of the University of Lethbridge (2002); the Presidents Award of the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (2002); the C.M. Hincks Award from the national division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (2007); and the Medal of Honour of the Alberta Medical Association (2010).
A popular member of the Speakers’ Bureau of Alberta, Dr. Mardon has publicly assisted the medical profession by supporting issues that doctors support, and by adopting policy positions that have helped medical providers treat those with mental illness. He uses his own experience and his road to recovery in advocating in the areas of stigma, service delivery, awareness, and education. Recognized as a powerful advocate by Michael Kirby, chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada – who received the CMA Medal of Honour in 2010 – together they made a presentation at last year’s CMA General Council in Montreal that earned them a standing ovation from physician delegates.
Catherine Mardon is originally from Oklahoma, but lived many years in St. Petersburg, Florida before relocating the Canada. She has a Bachelors of Science in Agriculture (Forestry) from Oklahoma State University, a Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, and a Bachelors of Art in Pastoral Ministry from Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. She is currently working on a Masters in Theological Studies degree from Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She worked extensively for family farmers, with ecumenical organizations, for the homeless, and as a speaker on social justice issues. Her legal practice also included archdiocesan tribunal work, mediation, death penalty appeals, and a variety of low income concerns. After being forced into early retirement due to an injury that left her disabled, she raised foster children. In addition to being a graduate student, she is an advocate for the disabled, especially those with mental illnesses.