The global pandemic has brought home the issue of mental illness for all of us. But what about those we live among who have had chronic mental illnesses their whole lives which will continue long after COVID-19 is gone?
Let’s say, for argument sake, that you work in an office. A co-worker called Sandy fills in two days a week. You see she is having problems adjusting and is disorganized. So you invite her to lunch one day to see what you can do to help. During lunch she shares with you that she has schizophrenia. Your options are: you can help and support her, you can stay completely away from her because you can’t deal with ‘crazies,’ or you can contact human resources telling them they made a big mistake.
Unfortunately, all too many will pick the second or third option. It’s important to realize that by age 40, 50% of Canadians will have dealt with a mental health issue. Stigma like this leads to such things as workplace discrimination, difficulty finding housing, getting proper treatment and acceptance into the community.
You may be asking: What kind of problems do these people have? Are they not satisfied to collect government supports and sit at home watching soap operas? Well, the problems are many. First, grandiose delusions, then hallucinations which support the false ideas. Then paranoia and a susceptibility to believe grandiose ideas. People with bipolar disorder have bouts of energy and few inhibitions matched with bouts of debilitating depression.
On top of this, many people with mental illness take medications that rob them of their ability to concentrate, of their sex drive, even their ability to hold a coffee cup. Men can even develop breasts.
There are many debilitating mental illnesses. One of them is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This devastating illness often leaves its victims homeless and isolated. The website homelesshub.ca indicates that 35% of homeless people have mental illnesses — among homeless women, specifically, 75% have mental illnesses. Statistics Canada states that of the 4,000 suicides that occur every year in Canada, 90% of the victims have a mental illness.
In truth, conditions are improving. Thirty years ago, I was a patient on a locked ward and experienced violent treatment from the staff, barbaric use of medications and huge stigma in my community. It was devastating.
In 2019, I was admitted to a psychiatric ward. I was treated with respect and care, good food, and the staff were sensitive to my issues. And the medications used to treat my illness were far less debilitating than what I was previously took. I was even able to resume work after leaving.
I often see people who are homeless, mentally ill, destitute. It used to be that I would give them $10 if I was doing well. Now I give prepaid cards for coffee or food.
What has to happen for homeless/addicted people to get help? We may need to stop giving them money. Instead, give money to agencies that truly help. The key issue is to never dehumanize them. I feel if I can reach them, talk to them, make them understand I care, there is more of a chance I can help them recover, rejoin society. A website called Quora has some excellent ideas on how to help the homeless and mentally ill.
It was Gandhi who once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, visit the government of Canada’s mental health services website. In the case of emergency, dial 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital.
Leif Gregersen is a writer, teacher, and public speaker with 12 books to his credit, three of which are memoirs of his life experience with mental illness. He can be reached by email at: email@example.com Follow him on Twitter at: @533viking303