University of Calgary

Q & A with Clem and Olivier

UToday HomeAugust 2, 2012

Olivier, left, and Clem Martini share a laugh at the Taylor Family Digital Library. Photo by Riley BrandtOlivier, left, and Clem Martini share a laugh at the Taylor Family Digital Library. Photo by Riley BrandtCasey Blais: What was your reaction when you learned that your book was chosen as the Common Reading Program book selection for 2012?

Clem Martini: I was pleased and honoured to know the book had been selected. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from the knowledge that people understand the book, and that it will reach a wide audience.

Olivier Martini: I didn’t really know what they meant when they talked about the Common Reading Program initially, but now that I do, I think it’s a good thing.


Casey: Part of the objective of the Common Reading Program is to explore the idea of leadership. How is your story applicable in that sense?

Clem: There are a couple of things to think about when it comes to leadership, and one is activism. It’s not enough to say, “Here is a situation and it’s unsatisfactory.” It’s necessary to perform some analysis and decide what you can do about the situation. You also need to see activism as an ongoing part of your life experience. One of the ways my brother and I could engage in action was to write a book.

The other thing to think about involves reaching out to the community. We all have the potential to affect and have impact upon the culture and society that we live in. The degree to which we are satisfied or dissatisfied should provide us with fuel for that engagement. If we see something that we feel is unsatisfactory, we should engage in discussion, try to generate insight, and provide materials and tools so that others can become actively involved as well.


Casey: As far as your relationship with your brother goes, did working on the book make it stronger? How did that process unfold?

Clem: It was an interesting project to work on. I enjoyed it. I’ve always liked Olivier’s artwork. We had talked a lot about finding an opportunity to promote his artwork, and also to work together. The discussions were in theoretical terms about how it could work, so it was gratifying to not only see it happen, but to realize it is successful. So the nominations, the awards and nationwide exposure … this is affirmation that the work we both did is good.

Clem: (To Olivier) And what did you think about it. Did you enjoy working on it?

Olivier: Yeah. It was very exciting. Working on collective projects like this is pretty cool.

Clem: (To Olivier) It was great to see it completed. Did you find it challenging?

Olivier: I would say the whole book was a learning experience for me. I felt I had to tell the story.

Clem: And for me, whenever you revisit something, whenever you think through something and have to put it down on paper, part of that revisiting process involves discovery. Olivier sketched out this section about the circles of hell in mental health. It was interesting because it was a different way of looking at things. I got a chance to understand his perception of the mental health system, and that was a huge discovery for me.

It gives you a perspective that you didn’t have previously. You sit there and think, “What’s it like being checked in? What’s it like being in a group? What’s it like waiting in emergency?” Well, I don’t know, but Liv does, and so the pictures offered me a special portal.


Casey: Mental illness is certainly misunderstood. What is the political message in this book?

Clem: The political message is more-or-less articulated in the end. Two-thirds of people with mental illness never receive treatment, and those who do are underfunded. Families lack assistance and guidance. The situation for those who have mental illness, and for families of those with mental illness, is that they are misunderstood and stigmatized. All of that is true, and there aren’t many signs that the situation has improved.

The (Common Reading Program) offers an opportunity to change minds, alter perceptions and engage in a real dialogue with incoming students. That is terrific, because it’s exactly the intention of this book; that is part of the political agenda.


Casey: Olivier, you get the sense from this book that things could have been much worse for you?

Olivier: I hear a lot of that. Many mental health consumers are alienated from their families, and have been for a long time. I know of one person who can’t find anyone to take on his case. His family doesn’t know what to do with him. They’ve found him an apartment, so he’s off the streets, but I don’t know what he will do once his parents pass.

Clem: We talk about the importance of families in this book because they are able to provide advocacy at different critical junctures for people who experience mental illnesses. It’s very difficult when the family cannot act as an advocate or provide support. When people are on their own, it can have tragic outcomes. The people who have the best outcomes are those who have supports in place.


Casey: Olivier, some of your illustrations suggest that you feel stigmatized by your illness. Is this how you feel?

Olivier: Most of the people are doing what they can for us. I don’t know about mental health issues.

Clem: (To Olivier) Do politicians recognize mental illness?

Olivier: I feel most politicians would like to have me hidden away. People with mental illness are probably an embarrassment to them. 


Casey: What do you hope students will take from this book?

Clem: It is important to recognize that mental illness is not an isolated occurrence. One in four or five people will experience a serious mental illness. If you do the math, that means most people will personally know someone who experiences mental illness.

The second point is to think about how mental illness is treated in comparison with other health issues. At one point in the book, we invite people to go to the hospital and determine the status of mental illnesses by its comparative visibility. It’s quite striking. Go to any hospital and you’ll immediately find out where the heart issues are taken care of, where cancer is treated, and so on. Now try to find out where the psychiatric wing is. It’s invisible.

The next step is to ask what you can do. People have to take responsibility for this because society does not simply improve on its own.  Change is an outcome of the choices and decisions that people make.

After you’ve taken these steps, then it is up to everyone in society to take responsibility, do something, and get involved.


Casey: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Clem: I feel a sense of pride that the University of Calgary is taking this topic on because issues related to mental health are often seen as something to be ignored and set aside. Part of my pride relates to recognition of the book. But on a more fundamental level, it’s about the recognition that there has to be a new kind of debate and engagement with issues of mental health.