Edmonton author Amy Willans was a university student and elite-level athlete on the Canadian National Precision Skating Team when mental illness forced her to leave the team and quit school at age 22. The next five years of her life was a cycle of hospitals, medications, invasive treatments and the shocking reality of isolation and stigma.
After years of learning to manage her illness, Amy has dedicated her life to fighting stigma, educating the general public around mental illness, and supporting those living with brain illnesses.
Amy was the first Peer Support Worker on an Alberta Health Services (AHS) Addiction and Mental Health clinical team, and worked on the Assertive Community Treatment Team from 2012 – 2016. She was a recipient of the 2015 Partner in Health award, presented by The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA) for her work in bringing Peer Support to clinical teams in AHS.
Amy is a Community Education Presenter and Peer Support Worker for the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta (SSA). In 2018, Amy helped envision and develop the Indigenous Outreach Program at the SSA, a peer support and educational program for geographically isolated indigenous people through the telehealth portal.
Amy has had the privilege of speaking to thousands of people across Alberta, using her personal story to affect social change. She has done public speaking for the SSA, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and The Mental Health Commission of Canada, where she is currently a presenter for HEADSTRONG: Youth Anti-Stigma Initiative. She’s been a presenter at the Adult Psychiatry Grand Rounds at the University of Alberta Hospital and Alberta Hospital Edmonton; a guest on CBC Radio, Global News and Bell Media. At their invitation, Amy has met with leaders in municipal, provincial and federal governments, to make recommendations on programs and services for those living with schizophrenia and related illnesses.
Amy’s written work has been published in The Globe and Mail, Standing Together: Women Speak Out about Violence and Abuse (Brindle and Glass, 2005, edited by Linda Goyette and sponsored by the Alberta Council on Women’s Shelters); Transition magazine, published by the Canadian Mental Health Association in 2007; and in various journals and anthologies. Her spoken word poetry is featured on The Raving Poets’ CDs Mumbo Jumbo, Pig Poetry and The Raving Poets Remixed. Amy is a past participant in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate program at the University of Iowa.
In collaboration with visual artist and poet, Laurie MacFayden, Amy co-created the installation titled Fighting Normal, a multi-discipline collaboration, exploring the stigma of mental illness, which was on display at Visual Arts Alberta Gallery in 2013.
Amy is currently writing full time, and is a member at Roundhouse, a coworking space at MacEwan University. Roundhouse is a community of changemakers with a belief that real social change starts with collaboration.
Amy is the recent recipient of The Mayor’s 2019 Ewen Nelson Award for Self-Advocacy, and the 2019 Momentum Mental Health Leader Award, presented by Momentum Walk-in Counselling.
Photo credit: Angelique Rodrigues/MacEwan University.