01/25/2014 08:22 EST | Updated 03/27/2014 05:59 EDT

What Rosie DiManno Gets Wrong About Mental Illness

The word "mental" conjures fearful images; the "crazed" ax murderer, the "psycho" who stalks people and then stabs them repeatedly, the young man who takes a gun and sprays a stream of bullets in a room full of young children. Mental illness drags behind it a heavy bag of ignorance and confusion that has led to the stigma of shame and prejudice for those of us with the illness as well as our families, and continues to promote fear in the public square.

Unfortunately, there are still too many people who abuse the mentally ill and use our illness as a means to play on people's fear. Rosie DiManno, a columnist I respect, has fallen into that category.

She implied that Richard Kachkar, the man recently found not criminally responsible for killing a Toronto police sergeant in 2011, is not ready to reenter society even though his doctors say that he is a model patient who has made improvements through the use of therapy and drugs.

Last March, just after his Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) plea, Kachkar was considered a significant threat to public safety by a well-respected psychiatrist. By July his medical team at Ontario Shores had noted a marked improvement in his mental health as a result of the care he had received. For DiManno "Kachkar's abrupt mental health U-turn is unfathomable." She doesn't approve of Kachkar being given passes off the grounds of Ontario Shores. It "jangles" her that Kachkar "convinced" his doctors that he is better because for DiManno, "golly" it was quick. How could Kachkar possibly be "calm and co-operative" and "compliant" so quickly?

The answer is that he never received the medical care that he so needed and requested. It would have included drugs and talk therapy that would change his brain chemistry allowing him to think clearly.

Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health states mental illnesses are no different from heart disease, diabetes or any other chronic illness. All chronic diseases have behavioral components as well as biological components. "The only difference here is that the organ of interest is the brain instead of the heart or pancreas. But the same basic principles apply."

Sadly, DiManno, like Matt Gurney at the National Post who suggested last year that we develop a "snitch hot line" to report people "suspected" of mental illness, as if they were criminals, plays into the fear of those who have not experienced the treatment of mental illness.

Ms. DiManno finds it difficult to believe that proper mental health care can turn a person around, even quickly.

DiManno is playing into the fear that there is no treatment for the severely mentally ill, that a turnaround in one's mental state cannot possibly be as fast as Kachkar's. Yet, there is no astonishment when a diabetic once treated can turn around his physical health, or a that cardiac patient can recover quickly. But mental illness? Not possible.

DiManno is suggesting that once one has experienced an acute mental health crisis one cannot be trusted. If a school bus driver crashed the bus while suffering an acute heart attack killing eight children, would she blame him for the death of the children? At which point would she accept his healthy diagnosis? A heart attack is a physical disease -- but mental illness?

The stigma that is still associated with mental illness keeps so many in the closet and keeps others from knowing us. Fear is our biggest enemy: fear of receiving the diagnosis; fear of accessing care; fear of being the one with mental illness; fear of others finding out, fear of others with mental illness. Mental illness is often thought of as a moral weakness rather than being viewed as an illness of the brain that can be treated.

When violence erupts, fear pushes the agenda and today. Those with mental illness are in the process of losing their rights. And that agenda is being pushed by DiManno and Gurney who base their opinions on nothing more than feelings.


Facts About Mental Health in Canada