Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 12, 2009
Speak out: Keep Alberta Hospital beds open
Closing them shoves the vulnerable mentally ill out onto the streets, into jail cells, homeless shelters
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
The last several weeks I have been thinking a lot about the story from the Gospel of Mark about the man in Gerasene that Jesus healed of "unclean spirits." He lived among the tombs of the dead. The people were so afraid of him they had even tried to hold him with chains . . . to no avail.
I've wondered if this man was one of my ancestors. I have schizophrenia, as does my mother and my great-grandmother. I know there is a strong genetic component to this disease and can only assume that it has run in my family for many generations.
MIRACLE OF MEDICATION
I am so grateful that I live in a time and place where my illness can be controlled, if not cured, by medication. Had I lived 2,000 years ago, perhaps I would be that uncontrollable man living among the dead.
A culture is known for posterity by how it treated those most vulnerable. We should be proud as Canadians that our mentally ill citizens don't have to live chained to a tree.
When a parent first learns that their child has a mental illness, in an instant, all their hopes for their child's future are placed in doubt. How will they complete their education, will they ever be able to marry or have children of their own? Such images race through a parent's mind.
It is at that most dark night that we, the Body of Christ, need to reach out with a light of hope.
One of the most difficult aspects of my illness is the voices. It can be hard to differentiate between the voice of my illness, and the voice of truth. I have to rely on my doctors, my pastors and especially my wife to help me recognize the difference.
I am so blessed to have such strong support in my life. Not everyone with this illness is similarly blessed. It can be so hard to have an illness where one of the main symptoms is to believe that the medication that can give you your quality of life back, can also poison you.
When someone with this illness goes off their medication, they are often in great peril. We have to have a place where we can go to safely receive treatment.
When the province announced the closure of scores of beds at Alberta Hospital-Edmonton, I was inundated by phone calls by those concerned about the situation. Not just the mentally ill, but also their friends and families.
LOVED ONES' BURDEN
When in an active psychosis state, we won't care about treatment, but the people in our lives who love us, do care. They are the ones who will bear the brunt of the burden that this decision will bring.
I realize in this time of economic depression, we all need to make sacrifices. The problem with closing psychiatric beds is that individuals who need those beds are not going to be magically cured. They will have to go somewhere. They will take up regular hospital beds that are needed for other patients.
They will end up clogging our criminal justice system. Police officers are not trained psychiatrists.
They will end up being cared for by family members who will have to take leave from their regular jobs. Many will end up lost to the streets. Ten per cent of individuals with schizophrenia eventually commit suicide. I fear those numbers will increase.
SPEAK OUT AND PRAY
So what can we do as concerned Christians? First, we can educate ourselves so that we approach the mentally ill with compassion rather than fear. We can reach out to those who are caretakers, and offer them a respite. We can support charities such as the Schizophrenia Society, The Champion's Centre and the Marian Centre. We can lobby our legislators to add new, but often costly, treatments to the provincial formulary.
Finally, when decisions are made such as the closing of desperately needed hospital beds, we can protest and we can pray.
(Austin Mardon serves on the Alberta College of Social Workers. He received the Order of Canada in 2007 in recognition of his work as a mental health patient advocate.)
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