Imagine your 15 year old son or daughter is diagnosed with muscular sclerosis, cystic fibrosis or even cancer. Likely, your friends, family and community would drop everything to be by your side.
The recent case of Christopher Skelly brought this conversation to mind. This promising young man fell victim to the voices in his head, mainly the ‘Commander’ who told him to jump off of a bridge. His family did everything they possible could to help him. They became the ‘pill police’ always trying to make sure that he took his medication. They took time off work to care for him. They loved him. But their love was not enough to keep this young man alive. The system let him down. Society let him down.
Falling Through the Cracks
This young man, who suffered his first schizophrenia related psychotic break in University, fell through the cracks of society. He did not qualify for many community resources because he hadn’t spent the required 50 days in a psychiatric hospital in order to qualify for a community crisis team.
Family’s like Christopher’s are left to take on the overwhelming burden of caring for someone with severe mental health challenges. There is not enough access to supportive housing, not enough access to emergency psychiatric care. Wait times extend months, if not years.
Where’s the Money?
In Ontario, Canada, the provincial government spent $16 Billion between 2004 and 2012 on health care. During that time, only $220 Million was spent on mental health. I speak about Ontario because that is where I live, but the comparison could be made anywhere in North America. We all sit idly by, hoping that someone else will do something about it. We are in the middle of an epidemic, and we need to start doing something.
If your child was diagnosed with a terminal physical illness, there would be gift-baskets at your door, offers of home visits from health care practitioners, people would be raising money for you and starting benefit charities. But if your child is diagnosed with schizophrenia, people will more than likely pull away.
If it wasn’t for my parents, I likely wouldn’t be alive today. My mental health challenges began at a young age and they were left to face the brunt of it on their own. They had no training in mental health, as most parents don’t and had to learn from the ground up.
Parents: The Real Front Line Workers
I’m one of the lucky ones. My parents did everything they possibly could to help me. But they had to do in on their own.
We can’t expect parents to singularly move this mountain. We need the same type of help that is offered to parents with children with physical disabilities.
The bottom line is physical health and mental health can no longer be separated. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression cause hundreds and hundreds of deaths per year.
The bottom line is that in the end, schizophrenia is no different than cancer and therefore, should be treated with the same respect.