We've all been there, we've all had some sort of medical ailment that plagues us so badly that, while non-life threatening, it still requires immediate medical attention.
Here in Canada we have walk-in clinics and urgent-care centres open seven days a week (some even 24 hours a day) to treat our immediate non-life threatening physical needs. Hospitals promote such clinics left, right and centre because wait times are less, they are still one-stop shop for patients, and it takes the burden off of emergency rooms so they can deal with more critically ill patients. Most urgent-care centres still have the ability to do x-rays and do blood work with results coming in almost immediately. What a concept!
But where's such a centre or clinic for people living with mental illness? It's 2015 and in Canada we, as a society, still haven't come to the realization that people with mental illness can still have urgent and immediate psychiatric and psychological needs without it being deemed life-threatening. There are no decent services available to people who need immediate non-hospital psychiatric care.
If you're in a mental health crisis and want immediate care you either need to call the police or present yourself to the emergency room. A friend of mine told me she is dismayed that she was told by her doctor the only way for her to get immediate help is if she is suicidal or homicidal. A friend of mine who is a child and youth worker and who used to work in a group home told me she used to coach clients to say they were suicidal or homicidal in order to access immediate psychiatric care.
There are a variety of reasons why a person may need to access immediate psychiatric care. I'm not a doctor and therefore can't get into specifics as to why people need immediate psychiatric care but I can speak about why I've needed immediate psychiatric care in the past. It's been any one or a combination of these factors: Job loss, immediate loss of income, ending a relationship or friendship, challenges at work/school, endless and ongoing panic attacks, strong feelings of isolation and loneliness, etc.
Many of these things are what people without mental illness experience every day, which is why I argue we need around the clock resources available to everybody around the clock everyday. We all need assurances that we're going to be OK. Sometimes we need to take that a step further by meeting with a social worker and sometimes a doctor in a time of need.
Unfortunately, most people's first contact with the mental health system comes in a time of crisis. We don't actively promote services people can utilize to keep their mental health in check all the time or to prevent it from reaching a state of crisis, that's because these services don't really exist.
The health care system keeps telling us to keep our physical health in check because it promotes a happier and healthier lifestyle, it also keeps our health care costs low.
Isn't it about time we do the same for mental health?
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Don't be fooled by Terry Bradshaw's demeanour on NFL broadcasts; even tough guys like the Super Bowl-winning former quarterback have struggled with depression. The ex-Pittsburgh Steeler opened up about his struggle with the illness in 2004, and how he had difficulty "bouncing back" after a divorce. "With any bad situations I'd experienced before — a bad game or my two previous divorces — I got over them. This time I just could not get out of the hole." He has also talked openly about his struggles with memory loss, which resulted from concussions he sustained in his playing days.
In "Silver Linings Playbook," Bradley Cooper played Pat Solitano, a Philadelphia man struggling with bipolar disorder after being released from an institution. Cooper admitted to knowing very little about the illness before the role, but he has since spoken openly about mental health, talking about veterans dealing with PTSD in a speech at the MTV Movie Awards, and attending the White House's National Conference on Mental Health in 2013. At the conference, he talked about how a friend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and how people dealt with it by not talking about it. Cooper encouraged delegates to "[help] people understand that they're not alone, that the thing they're feeling, it probably has a name."
Last year, as Robert De Niro's film "Silver Linings Playbook" was in theatres, he broke down crying while talking to Katie Couric about his father's difficulties with bipolar disorder. "I don't like to get emotional, but I know exactly what he goes through," he said of the film's character Pat Solitano (played by Bradley Cooper). De Niro's public discussion helped to show how families also suffer when people close to them experience mental illness.
Canadian Olympic medallist Clara Hughes is among the most prominent voices speaking out about mental health in the Great White North. The speed skater and cyclist, who is the only person to ever win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, has been open about her struggles with depression, which have been present throughout her athletic career. Hughes took that experience and channeled it into a job as spokesperson for Bell Let's Talk, an initiative that aims to end the stigma around mental illness. She cycled across Canada for 11,000 kilometres as part of "Clara's Big Ride for Bell Let's Talk," which triggered a conversation around mental health from coast to coast to coast. Hughes visited 105 communities and 80 schools and youth groups as part of the ride.
Michael Landsberg, host of TSN's Off the Record, cuts an energetic figure on TV. But in 2010, he went public about his struggles with depression in a TSN special alongside ex-NHLer Stephane Richer in an effort to let men know that it's OK to talk about it. The special triggered as many as 30 emails, all of them from men, Landsberg told The Toronto Star. Years later, he helped a woman who tweeted at him about her plans to kill herself. Landsberg found the woman and sought help for her from the police.
Actress and singer Demi Lovato did not have a strong relationship with her father, but when he died, she went public about both his and her own struggles with mental illness. She also established the Lovato Treatment Scholarship, which helps to pay for people's treatment.
As a figure skater, Elizabeth Manley did Canada proud by winning a silver medal in ladies' singles at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Prior to the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, she experienced a series of unfortunate events. Her coach left her, she ended up training in the U.S. away from those closest to her, and her parents divorced. Manley gained weight and her hair fell out. She was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown and depression. Manley has since become a spokeswoman on mental health issues. She told her story in her 1990 autobiography "Thumbs Up!" and organized "Elizabeth Manley and Friends," a 2012 benefit show whose proceeds went to teen mental health initiatives.
Who can forget Amanda? The 15-year-old from Port Coquitlam, B.C. jumpstarted a whole new discussion on bullying and mental health after she went public with allegations of harassment in a heartbreaking video that was posted on YouTube. Then on Oct. 10, just over a month later, she killed herself. Her death sparked an outpouring of emotion from around the world, and prominent voices such as B.C. Premier Christy Clark cited her in speeches at We Day 2012 in Vancouver. Her mother Carol Todd also set up a trust fund at Royal Bank of Canada, which would raise money for young people living with mental health issues.
In 2006, Margaret Trudeau, ex-wife of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, went public over her struggle with bipolar disorder, and how she used marijuana to cope with it. She has spent subsequent years since giving speeches about the condition, telling packed audiences about her highs and lows. Her book "Changing My Mind" details her life as it's been affected by the disorder and offers advice to others who live with it.