Thursday, July 02, 2009

Let down

In the wake of Dave Batters' tragic death, a friend and reader offers up some commentary on how mental health unfortunately continues to receive short shrift as a public policy priority:
We all do foolish things in our lives; thankfully the healthcare system is usually there to bail us out. For example: We jump from somewhere a bit too high, or pull a crazy stunt and break our leg. We go to Emergency. We get it fixed quickly. Sometimes we go to Emergency with a bad case of the flu and have to wait upwards of 6 to 8 hours or more just to see a doctor. We rant about how unreasonable this is.

But let me ask you this: 6 to 8 hours versus 6 to 8 months. Which is more ridiculous?

Our mental healthcare system often leaves people with no other choice but that of waiting for months on end to get the treatment they need. Please keep in mind that the distinction I make between mental and physical health is that of a false dichotomy: the brain is a living organ that produces chemicals, just like your thyroid or any other organ for that matter.

That being said, however, the idea of people "not being severe enough to need immediate attention" in a mental healthcare situation is a dangerous proposition indeed. Mental illness ebbs and flows at quick rates. While a person can be "very sad" one day, three weeks later life events or chemical imbalances caused by a bad prescription can push someone over the edge.

Research in the past 3-4 years shows that, when the brain is subjected to feelings of sadness or anxiety or, quite often, a combination of the two, the rate of production of neurotransmitters is altered. Just as your metabolism will, in some ways, change if you radically change your diet and exercise patterns, life events which affect your mood eventually alter the way your brain works.

Of course, this is all reversible, but painstakingly harder to do once the process has started. Ironically, it is at around 6 months of time that the brain really starts reorganizing itself to work in a consistently different way -- the same amount of time it takes to get in to see a psychiatrist in Saskatchewan (and elsewhere).

Furthermore, people often do not seek treatment for mental disorders because they feel ashamed, or are afraid that their employers, family, friends, and even their own self-concept, will view themselves as "weak." Some people falsely believe you can "go this on your own." At other times, assertions from people outside professions dealing with these issues (certain healers, etc.) lead individuals astray. Many people have suffered in silence for years due to these problems.

Mr. Batters' willingness to face his problem head-on despite all of these obstacles, even though he ultimately lost the battle, is indeed extremely courageous. Furthermore, his family's willingness to "go public" with the reason for his death is an act of bravery that cannot be ignored; it is paramount that it help advance the cause of mental health in our province.

One role of the healthcare system -- arguably its most important one -- is to disseminate accurate knowledge amongst its population to help keep them healthy. Being proactive even makes sense: it saves money. So why do STIs and BMIs get coverage, but not MDDs (Major Depressive Disorders)? Another role is to properly direct funds so that they can assist in finding new techniques, more hospital beds, more resource persons, and assist with more research which will help prevent more deaths. Mental health has been consistently underfunded, leading to a loss of lives which, as aforementioned, often goes unnoticed by the general public due to publication bans or feelings of shame.

People do not choose to remain mentally ill. It is more painful than a great deal of other illnesses. It can be crippling and unbearable. At the extreme, it makes us want to take our own lives. None of us start out wanting to take our own lives. We need to look at this situation carefully, and not dismiss it as someone simply choosing to take the wrong path. Our healthcare system needs to take some responsibility.

Mr. Batters was let down, as so many others have been over the years. I hope he is now at rest. I commit to keep fighting for the rights of the mentally ill his memory and those of others I know who have lost their battle with this illness.

No comments:

Post a Comment