Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Mental Ilness: Poor folks keep it in the family


I had the television on mute yesterday because, mostly, I watch CTV and I couldn't take another minute of Bell "Let's Talk Day".

It's not because taking mental illness "out of the shadows" is a bad cause or anything. And I'm happy that Bell raised millions of bucks to fund new projects and programs. Though, couldn't Bell have done the same thing if it just donated the millions it spent on commercials advertising their phone services?

Sorry, it's just the cynic in me.

I can't afford a Bell smartphone, so I suppose my texts didn't count.

Did you notice, all the people who were on the television seemed to be handpicked from the J. Crew catalogue? Not a one of them had a knockoff handbag and cheap shoes. Also I didn't see one black person. Just earnest white breads with straight white teeth and highlights.

And don't forget the celebrities and elite athletes lining up to talk to Ben Mulroney -- another luckless individual -- about how hard it was for them, with all their money, to get help.

I didn't see one poor kid in any of those town halls who was kvetching about how they're depressed or somesuch, didn't see one soldier speaking about how let down he or she was by the crappy job the military is doing to combat PTSD.

Things are getting better right? Tell that to the families of all those people who came home from Afganistan and offed themselves. Tell it to my neighbor who got severely depressed and had to move because the crackheads in the neighborhood were terrorizing her. Or my friend Maggie, now dead, because she couldn't get into treatment for her alcoholism because her problem wasn't bad enough.

A lot of people I know have the exact conditions as the shiny happy people on television. They don't call it mental illness. They just have problems.

You don't see poor people on CTV because they're too busy dodging creditors and going to Money Mart to bridge until the next pay day because Ottawa Hydro is threatening to cut off their lights, or they don't have time between taking the kids to school and standing in line at the Food Bank to worry about whether they have a mental illness.

I think the biggest laugh was one guy standing up yesterday saying how relieved he is that people can talk about their mental illness in front of prospective employers to explain gaps in their resumes from the time they had meltdowns or DUIs or suicidal thoughts. Yeah, I'm sure people in the h.r. community are standing in line just waiting to hire somebody who has a mental illness, somebody who can't take the stress, somebody who has had to take themselves out of society for a while in hopes of feeling a little better.

And the insurance community can't wait to give insurance to people who have things like manic-depression, suicidal ideation, alcoholism, drug addictions, licence suspension written on their medical charts. That's why people lie about their mental health. Because, in the end, it's gonna take them down one way or another.

People with problems aren't depicted in the glossy television commercials. They don't have benefits and can't spend $80 bucks a paycheque on SSRIs (zoomers, my friend Roger calls anti-depressants) and they surely can't afford to have their heads shrunk.

The kids who come from brokeback homes, who have inherited the family genome profile, especially, aren't going to university like the one shiny happy kid who was on CTV last night, the kid with supportive parents, medical insurance, a college fund.

Sure she got help.

She's not smoking pot in the basement like the kids I know. She's running for school council and making new friends.

For most people with mental illness, like people in my family, the system has let them down over and over again. My mother had shock treatments to deal with her depression. My father died using fuel from alcohol and PTSD. My son ended up on the street, then in my basement for 10 years. And I am sitting here talking to you because I can't get a job. Too many holes in my resume from the places and times I had to prop up family members as a single parent while battling my own feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

I didn't have health insurance to deal with my family's problems. Our counsellors were called social workers. One of them called the cops on my son when he threatened to kill himself.

Eventually, we sorted out all our problems, as poor families do, no thanks to a chilly system with unforgiving eyes. If this sounds bitter, well, you're damned right I'm bitter. I couldn't get help for my kid until it was almost too late. The system let us down, as it let down my mum and my dad.

For people like me, it's a life-shortening, rollercoaster ride. If you're lucky, maybe you get a refund at the end. If you're not, you're in your grave from all the stress on your heart and toxins in your liver.

I want to hope that things will be better in the future, that talking about mental illness will make a difference. But I know it won't at least not in my lifetime.

The doctors will still look down at us from their lofty perches. The schools will still judge our children. And we will live out our golden years on a mixture of booze, smokes and advice from mental health evangelists like Dr. Phil.

Thank God for Dr. Phil.

I can see him every day and he's free, you know, on basic cable.

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