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In a recent interview on CBC radio, actress-comedian Mary Walsh spoke about her own reasons for volunteering and for being an advocate for various causes.

“I grew up in the time when to be a volunteer was seen as a great thing,” she says. “I started volunteering as a candy striper, mostly to get to wear the uniform, so volunteering and community service, that just seems to be a normal part of life to me.”

Nevertheless, there are some causes that she has a personal connection to. As a sufferer of macular degeneration, Walsh is a spokesperson for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Before injections to stop macular degeneration and in some cases even to repair the damage became available, she sought a different treatment for herself.

“I went to Saint Louis and had surgery where they cup open my eye, took out the macular, removed the offending blood vessels and then stuffed it back in again. [Macular degeneration] is just a pain in the butt really. I always have to have glasses on, and I just can’t read in that kind of way that I used to read. My eyes just won’t do it anymore.”

Addiction is another cause important to Walsh. “My life is surrounded by alcoholism and addiction. We happened to have a lot of alcoholism and addiction in our family. I myself am an alcoholic. I’m not a practicing alcoholic at the moment, and I’m happy about that. So, I have a great amount of sympathy in that area because it has been a part of my life for my entire life.”

Frustrated about the lack of support for mental illness in Canada, another issue she is an advocate for, last week Walsh hosted her own CBC radio segment on mental illness in prisons. “If I have a pain in my chest,” she says, “I go to emergency and there is a system in place to deal with me. I go right in, I have the EKG, they lay me down, they take my blood. If you have mental illness, there is no system. Sometimes the only system that you can access is the law courts. That’s your best hope. Your best hope in this country, if you have a mental illness, sometimes is the prison system.”

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