My mom is a beautiful, kind and vivacious woman. As a mother of three, she fills her days with volunteer work, fitness, enjoying her pets and taking care of family. For the past 10 years, she has lived in the family home in West Vancouver with the privilege of enjoying nice things and experiences most would envy. Behind her smile though, things were not so bright.
This week, I picked Mom up from the Vancouver airport after eight weeks away. She had not been on holiday.
After the end of a 25-year marriage and other painful life circumstances, I found my mother's suicide note. At the end of a frantic search, I managed to find her and get her to hospital in time to keep her with us.
Less than two months earlier, I had sat with her in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital after she had overdosed on prescription medication and alcohol in an effort to shut out the world. Life circumstances had brought her lifelong battle with depression to the surface and we were about to discover that it can be nearly impossible to get adequate treatment for the illness in Vancouver.
Vancouver is the city voted as having the highest quality of living in North America. Yet this is the city where my mom spent two days isolated and heavily medicated in hospital with nurses behind glass walls, visited daily for a short discussion with a psychiatrist, and then discharged alone with the same prescription medication that she used to attempt suicide.
My mom does not have a problem with drugs or alcohol and without addiction, there was nowhere for her to go beyond the unequipped hospital ER department. After an ER psychiatrist sent her to a short-stay centre for rest and treatment, the professionals there felt that her life "circumstances" would not change so going home may be her best option.
I was left to care for my mom, force her to eat, try to help her sleep, and pray that she didn't do anything to harm herself when I was at work. She was in such pain and despair. We begged for help. It felt like no one was listening.
Even hospital staff seemed frustrated with the lack of a solution. With the absence of addiction, there was no appropriate in-patient treatment for my mom to get the care and recovery support that she so badly needed.
Luckily, we found a treatment centre in Ontario that came highly recommended. For two weeks, I "stalked" the Homewood admissions department and soon enough, she was on her way to Guelph, Ont. for in-patient treatment.
My mom had to pay high private fees because she could not wait the weeks it would take for the B.C. government to approve funding. Luckily she had access to those funds but most don't and anyone who has been in a mental health crisis knows that every minute is a struggle. Waiting weeks for treatment can be a matter of life or death.
During Mom's time at Homewood, she received a variety of wonderful treatment including group, drama, and horticulture therapy; fitness and nutrition support; and help in determining the right mix of medication.
Most importantly, after years of pain, despair and shame, my mom learned that she has an illness called depression. She also learned that she is not defined by this illness, and that she can get the tools and support to manage her depression and live a happy life, much like with any other illness one faces.
This year, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson declared a mental health crisis. I can tell you first hand that we are in a crisis. Mental illness is not just about those living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and abusing drugs and alcohol. That said, often drugs and alcohol may feel like the only way to find relief and to self medicate in a system where there is no access to necessary support.
My mom would be the first to tell you that she is not much different from the person living in the DTES on drugs and suffering from an illness. The difference is that she had the privilege and means to get the treatment she needed. She says that she learned more in treatment from those who many would call "broken" than from a lifetime with those society looks up to as "whole."
Mental illness runs in our family just as it does in many B.C. families, from those living in poverty to those living in the city's richest neighbourhoods.
I live with anxiety and I too have had difficulty finding treatment that doesn't involve addictive medications. Luckily I have the means and education to try to find a treatment that works for me.
As we recognize World Mental Health Day this week, I hope that we can blast the stigma associated with the illnesses, but also push our local and national governments to make mental health a top priority. There are groups and individuals doing amazing work to support mental health in our province but we need so much more commitment and funding.
I can guarantee you that many people you know are living with a mental health illness and many are suffering due to lack of adequate resources and support.
I am lucky to have my mom here with me today, now healthy and looking forward to a bright future. I am so proud of her.
I want the same for everyone else in our province struggling this minute with the pain of a mental illness. Let's commit to making a change so that no one else is sent home without adequate treatment. It can be the difference between losing a mom or having one alive and well.
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