Independence and privacy: These are two very valuable things that we cherish in our daily lives; many of us have a habit of taking them for granted. But for those with mental illness like myself it appears as if we now have to fight vigorously to maintain our independence and privacy.
There are two stories that have recently made headlines and as a vocal mental health advocate I couldn't be more outraged. The first is about Toronto woman Ellen Richardson who was denied entry to the United States because she had been hospitalized for depression. US border guards are allowed to deny anybody entry if for any reason they deem that person to be dangerous. US officials said she could eventually be allowed entry after paying a $500 fee and meeting with a doctor shortlisted by the US.
On December 4, 2013 The Toronto Star reported that "Royal Canadian Mounted Police shares information in the Canadian Police Information Centre database with the FBI and other U.S. agencies." This includes when police are called to attend somebody who has attempted suicide and have or are at risk of harming themselves.
The second story that grabbed my attention is by Toronto Star columnist Joe Fiorito who talked about attending a meeting of the Empowerment Council at The Centre for Addiction & Mental Health. In his column Fiorito talked about people with mental illness having their drivers licenses revoked because doctors found them unfit to drive. To get the decision overturned patients have to navigate a somewhat complex system that will cost you money.
When I first read both these stories the same thought came to my mind: Public/government officials believe people with mental illness are dangerous. There's a massive stereotype out there in which people believe those with mental illness are violent and pose a threat to the general public when in fact people with mental illness are likely to be a victim of violence.
For starters, it troubles me how US officials had access to information of a Canadian's hospitalization. I get it; in this era government's are constantly sharing data and knowledge in the name of safety. But just how much data are they sharing, what's contained in it, and how are they using it? Could the Canadian government possibly think one of its own citizens is a threat to another country? The fact that somebody who sought treatment for their depression is deemed dangerous seems absolutely bogus.
As for having one's drivers license revoked I believe there should be more checks and balances that a medical professional must go through. Perhaps doctors should have the ability to issue a temporary suspension until their decision goes before a full hearing. A doctor who has never met me before and sees me at a time of a temporary crisis could deem me unfit to drive for undetermined amount of time when in reality I may only be unable to drive for a couple hours.
Believe it or not vacations and driving are what keeps my mental health in check. Taking a break from reality and taking a holiday somewhere sunny gives me something to look forward, but it allows me to hit my internal restart button and allows me to tackle my challenges in a much clearer state of mind.
As for driving, I would never drive in a state that would put others or myself at danger. Holding a license is a privilege, not a right. In fact, it is a responsibility. All of my friends and family know that when I need alone time I enjoy hopping in the car to just drive in the country, it relaxes me and gives me time for reflection. My driving record is clean. If I ever had my license taken away from my mental health would tank, I would lose my independence and that would in turn quickly isolate me.
The bigger issue here is the stigma those with mental illness are facing from those who should be helping us the most. In order to move the mental health agenda forward we need to be forming a partnership with government and medical professionals. But with tactics such as what I've mentioned at their disposal, it makes me very weary.
What's even more alarming is the stories mentioned above are what prevent people from seeking treatment for their mental illness. Our governments owe us an explanation but they need to be more transparent as to how our personal information is being shared and how it is being used.
I urge our government and international partners to stop using our personal info against us; instead they should use it to offer us better treatment options!