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Today’s column is from the “we had to destroy the village in order to save it” school of thought. This from a CBC report:

“An estimated 90 agencies that have contracts with the Vancouver Coastal Health Region are being told to reduce costs, but provincial Health Minister Kevin Falcon says the reductions will not mean a cut in services.

“Falcon told the legislature Tuesday that his ministry is making changes in order to provide better service for those individuals coping with both mental health and addiction issues”.

This from a report by Justine Hunter in the Globe and Mail:

“Health-care workers in Victoria will only be able to treat the most acute mental-health patients as budget cuts result in fewer beds, caseworkers and community support services”.

Let me identify my interest in this subject; I suffer from mental illness and have been treated for depression/anxiety for 20 years. I’ve been active in this field for some years and am a Patron of the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Branch and founder of the Bottom Line Conference dealing with mental health in the workplace.

On hearing about the cuts my otherwise mild disposition exploded in anger and let me tell you some of the reasons.

About one in five will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime and it’s no exaggeration to say that virtually every family will be impacted some time; many substance abuse cases are mentally ill people self medicating; mentally ill people are rejected by society and government as they wander helplessly and often are homeless; AND MOST MENTAL ILLNESS CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY TREATED IF ONLY THE MENTALLY SICK DIDN’T FACE AN ENORMOUS STIGMA THAT BLOCKS THEIR PATH TO THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE.

Health Minister Falcon’s merciless comments can be expected from a man who, as Transportation minister, annoyed at rules for building highways, wished we were like China whose government does as it pleases. His cuts are not to a system with a lot of “fat” in it but one which has always been strapped for money. I’ve said it before and will say it again – if the physically ill were treated as are the mentally ill, they would storm the legislature.

The problem is that you can’t, for the most part, see mental illness. It expresses itself through behaviour, uncontrollable behaviour. “Consumers” as they’re called, often know that their behaviour is irrational but are unable to cope with their stronger inner voice.

In 1988, out of the blue, I became convinced that I had cancer of the liver. I went to my Columbia Medical Dictionary and sure enough, there it was – liver cancer. I phoned my doctor, Mel Bruchet, in North Vancouver and was told that the earliest he could see me was the next day. I exploded “I’ll be there in a few minutes and will wait for him”. I saw him and told him I had diagnosed liver cancer. He examined me and said “you dumb bugger” (we were good friends) you have gallstones”. “You’re lying to me” I said. I had an ultra sound the next day and when the report confirmed that my liver was fine and that I had gallstones I accused him of lying to me.

Mel then asked me how long it had been since my daughter was killed and I asked “what the hell has that got to do with my liver cancer?”

He asked some more questions and at about #4 I broke into uncontrollable sobs and he held me like a baby. He then explained depression, what serotonin was and how a lack of it would explain my bizarre behaviour. He said “we’ll find the right medicine”. Fortunately he did and within a few days I felt as if I had come back from the dead.

Some years later I interviewed an American psychiatrist who, in an off air moment, told me of a new medicine I should use. I went back to Mel who said “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but finally gave in and prescribed it. I had to go off my medicine for two weeks which coincided with a holiday. Some holiday as I spent countless hours sobbing uncontrollably on Wendy’s shoulder. I went back to my old med as soon as I got back. It was a big lesson – depression, like any chronic ailment, was nothing to fool with, (Just this aside – Mel was, at that time, one of a small minority of doctors who knew anything about depression; today, thank God, that’s changed.)

In British Columbia there are thousands like me but remain untreated for one reason – the horrid stigma that society attaches to mental illness keeps them from seeking help. One’s afraid to tell one’s partner, one’s friends, and one’s employer. I “came out” by accident when taking a call on my show about 15 years ago. As the caller spoke I found myself telling him that he could take it from me, a mental health consumer, that there was help; that he must see his doctor.

The stigma remains. We perpetuate it in how we talk. We say “he must be crazy” but would never say “he must have cancer of the stomach”. We tell jokes about mental illness and I well remember a colleague of mine saying, on air, “our school was so small that our debating team was one schizophrenic”. Funny? Not if you’re a family dealing with this very serious illness.

With the Bottom Line Conference I’ve been privileged to work with prominent businessman Michael Francis and president of the BC Federation of Labour Jim Sinclair trying, with some success I think, to get management to recognize symptoms of mental illness, alcoholism being but one, and make help available through confidential employee assistance programs.

I finish where I started. Here we have with us perhaps the most serious and widespread illness in our community – one but only one manifestation is the homeless who, having been evicted from hospital wander without support – yet the Campbell government can spend hundreds of millions on circuses like the Olympics as they cut back vital funding to a community of sick people who have always been badly underserved by the system. This government started its mandate in 2001 by dumping Nancy Hall, the Mental Health Advocate because she was doing what she was mandated to do – finding out where help for mentally people was most needed. Campbell & Co didn’t want to know about those expensive sorts of people so Hall was dumped.

The needs for fighting mentally illness increase while this government flogs those least able to fight for their medical needs by decreasing what was already unsatisfactory help.

Let the games begin!

3 Responses to “B.C. government funds circuses instead of mental health”

  1. Jeff Taylor says:

    Hi Rafe, another great blog. I’m 44. Since I was about 11, I suffered from depression (sometimes very serve). Finally in my mid 20’s I decided I couldn’t continue living my life the way I was, so I decided it was time to either deal with it, or end my life. I went to a doctor that was knowledgeable and considerate when it came to depression. Lucky for me this doctor was also willing to take the time to find the right pill and dosage that was right for my body. There isn’t much doubt in my mind that taking those steps saved my life.
    It boggles my mind when I see the cuts to mental health programs in B.C. ( I now live in Toronto because I just could afford Vancouver any longer – lived there for my first 43 years). As I’ve heard you say over the years – these cuts to programs are ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. SO TRUE these days. There’s another saying that comes to mind and that’s ‘you can pay me now or pay me later, but you’ll pay me either way in the end’. This Gov’t can find millions, upon millions, upon millions for a a 3 week party in February yet little or nothing for issues that will haunt us for decades to come.
    I wouldn’t mind witting a cheque for my taxes owing if I knew that they would at least attempt to spend it wisely. This Liberal Gov’t doesn’t even try to appear like they are doing the right thing, never mind actually doing it. Shame on them. Why even bothering saying that, as it seems they feel no shame.
    Finally Rafe, thanks for your continued support for all people that have mental illness. Your brave decision to talk out loud is worth more than any 3 week party could ever be.

  2. Charmeyn says:

    Gordon Campbell would fit the character of Ebeneezer Scrooge to the “T”, and I can picture him uttering those infamous lines of that classic Charles Dickens story:
    ” Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses”
    BTW, in the Scottish Gaelic, the Campbell surname means “Twisted Mouth”, no offense to those Campbell’s in this world who are honest but Gordon Campbell lives up to that definition , maybe Mr. Campbell should take a vacation to Glencoe Scotland, where he would definitely be most un-welcome, in fact there are some hotels there that have signs that say, along the lines of “NO Shirt , No Shoes, No Campbell’s”, or something to that affect

  3. Tony says:

    Hi, Rafe,

    I had just tuned in today to your TV interview of Leigh McKay (sp?). I am both a psychotherapist and a long term consumer as well, having suffered from severe episodes of major depression throughout my life. This illness has literally stolen years of my life and I have spent many more simply coping rather than living. It has provided me with, I hope, a deeper insight into the struggles of my therapy clients. I am so happy that you and Leigh speak out on behalf of those of us with mental illness.

    I am presently undergoing treatment for a new episode and am unable to work for the time being. Seeing the interview realy helped as so often we experience shame and guilt when actually ill. Leigh’s decision to courageously and honestly describe his experience is tremendously helpful. The buddhist way of mindfulness is also increasing in poipularity as an addition to the methods of managing depression. I refer you to a book called ‘The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness’ which I am reading at present.

    All the best to you for 2010.

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