submitted by Holden C., Vancouver BC
“This is not about politics. It’s simply the right thing to do.” - Demi Lovato addressing the DNC on the need for mental health investment and policy change
This system is broken.
There I was again, locked in a seclusion room on the second floor of a psychiatric facility. Trapped in a dilapidated hospital ward. I was a “frequent flyer”. That’s what the nurses called us – the patients unable to break the cycle of repeat hospitalizations. Unable to exit the revolving door. We had fallen through the system’s cracks. We deserved better.
It was dark. The nurses had shut off the lights. An attempt to calm me, no doubt. The Haldol injection would take time to kick in. I stood up, carefully took three steps forward, and then smashed my fists against the cold metal door.
“Let me out!” I screamed. “Why am I here again?”
I had so many questions. I’ve learned that in life, there are many questions…and answers are few and far between. As an individual who has struggled with schizoaffective disorder, OCD, and substance abuse for fourteen years (nearly half my life), I demand change. We should all demand change.
Few seem to grasp the consequences and staggering costs associated with untreated mental health challenges: costs borne by those living with mental illness and addiction, their families and society as a whole. Mental health challenges can, if left untreated, lead to suicide, substance abuse, homelessness, and chronic physical illness. I’ve been around the block a few times, and I’ve seen people lose their lives to mental illness and addiction.
This system is stretched thin. It lacks the resources to keep up with a rising demand for mental health infrastructure, accessible programs, and services. Psychiatric emergency rooms are overflowing with patients awaiting beds (some patients must wait days before being transferred to an appropriate facility). Many in urgent need of help are being placed on long waitlists for vital treatment and care. Others are left unaware of essential programs and services as they struggle to navigate a convoluted mental healthcare system. To compound matters, psychiatric wards are seeing patients return to hospital time and time again due to insufficient community mental health supports.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting early intervention can unburden our strained mental healthcare system. Research shows that treating mental health challenges early leads to fewer relapses, fewer hospitalizations, and better overall prognoses – reducing the costs associated with mental illness and substance abuse. Programs offering mental health education can also reduce the incidence of relapse and hospitalization, and in some cases, may prevent mental illness entirely.
Additional funding for mental healthcare is desperately needed in Canada. We, as mental healthcare consumers and providers, must advocate for greater investment in mental health infrastructure, programs, and services. Investing in early intervention, and mental health education would go a long way towards improving quality of life for many who struggle with mental illness and addiction.
We must see mental health and physical health as being equally important. In BC, the Canadian Mental Health Association has begun their B4Stage4 campaign, hoping to change the way we think about mental illness and addiction. By shining a spotlight on the value of prevention and early intervention, they want to ensure our system of care treats mental illness, addiction and physical illness equally. The campaign’s analogy is straightforward. Physicians would never knowingly wait until stage 4 to treat cancer, and the same should be true when it comes to mental health challenges. B4Stage4 calls for mental health education and screening, and emphasizes treatment in the early stages of mental illness and addiction.
There is hope for change. I live a good life now, and I’ve come to peace with the challenges I’ve faced. But, I’m one of the lucky ones. Many who enter our mental healthcare system never reach the light at the end of the tunnel.
Mental illness and addiction are now epidemic. It’s time to invest in a cure. Ask yourselves and your bureaucrats, policymakers and politicians: what’s the right thing to do?
submitted by Holden C., Vancouver BC