Fighting mental illness is a street war


In reading all the coverage of mental illness subjects this week, I was reminded of a company vice-president — I’ll call him Paul — who became clinically depressed and had to take a leave of absence from his very important job.

Months went by, and the President approached Paul about his plans to return to his job.

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “Whenever I feel better, I think about my job and it just makes depressed again.”

Or what about the guy, who was despondent after his wife kicked him out of the house.

“What are you doing in my garage?” asked the wife.

“Getting the lawnmower,” said the man, who was meticulous about house maintenance.

And with that, the man took the lawnmower and mowed his neighbor’s lawn.

Funny stuff, mental illness.

And yet, the Bell-sponsored media are treating the subject as a doom and gloom subject. Suicide this, depression that.

I makes me blue just reading the papers this Mental Illness Awareness Week.

The whole thing, this “week”, is a big joke as far as I’m concerned.

What’s happened is that, in a few short years, the business community has done what they did with breast cancer. They got on the mental illness bandwagon. This Wednesday, a bunch of serious suits will get together at the Chateau Laurier and eat over-priced chicken and talk about mental illness.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; I’m just saying that, once again, these businesses are using a serious health issue to further their own economic ends. Like they’ve done with breast cancer and literacy.

I once attended one of these luncheons and I was absolutely gob-smacked at the money being spent on The Faces of Mental Illness Campaign.

I sat at a table with a mother and her schizophrenic son who were brought out like circus monkeys, paraded around, had their images placed on posters and their disease celebrated like they were winners of some kind of hockey tournament. Then the celebrities came out, some of them with tenuous links to the subject matter — usually a sister with depression or anxiety — and they also became the Faces of Mental Illness.

For years, people who care about the mentally ill have been lobbying for greater resources to help them. All they got was a t-shirt and The Canadian Mental Health Commission, which is stacked with doctors and bureaucrats with a mandate to find new ways to help the mentally ill.

Or perhaps further their own ambitions and enhance their egos?

If they really wanted to “face” mental illness, they should come down to my shopping mall and try to help the maybe 100 regulars who I see trying to negotiate through their lives with no help from the suits at Bell Media. (Best Bell could do would be to cut their phones and cable off for non-payment.)

Or come down the street to my house where our little Shyla is trying to cope with her pregnancy while off ADD medication. The doctors got this poor girl hooked on Adderall when she was thirteen, made her a drug addict, and now they’ve simply replaced the Adderall with Zoloft. She has gotten no help from her doctors who are warning that she is at high risk for postpartum depression.

You see, the suits don’t care about my neighbors or poor little Shyla. These people are the disenfranchised mentally ill. They can’t get to a psychiatrist for treatment unless they threaten self-harm — only then does the establishment pay attention.

There’s no high-priced chicken dinner at the Chateau Laurier for them.

I tried to get Shyla into an addiction program a few months back, but I was told there was too big a waiting list. We do our best to support her; as a long-time sufferer of depression and addiction, myself, I do have a few tools in my tool box. Mostly, we feed her, give her good television to watch and do our best to watch her like a hawk.

Shyla is lucky to have family.

The people down the street, for the most part, live alone, poor, neglected, invisible.

They are society’s garbage.

As Dorothy once wisely said to the wizard: “I guess there’s nothing in that bag for me.”

The fight to help the mentally ill is a street war. It doesn’t live in the Chateau Laurier or on a pretty poster. Or in executive offices somewhere.

What is needed is for Bell Media to belly up with some very big cheques to the municipalities who run youth programs, to addiction centres who help people rewind their lives, to community health centres who have the biggest job of all — saving people who wander in.

Mental illness needs awareness. But mostly, it needs action, resources and money.

It doesn’t need high price chicken dinners that make bigwigs feel better about themselves.

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