Let’s consider both sides of a preventable tragedy….
Another day, and another story on the news about someone who has committed a horrific act. The stabbings at the Loblaw facility scare us, the randomness of it. People, who should be safe at work, never made it home. Our hearts go out to the wounded, to the traumatized, to the widows and orphans. There will be public funerals, public mourning, and public grief.Yet, there is very private grief as well. Days later, there are follow up stories with the “S” word. Another family is grieving. This family will not receive condolences.They will instead have to hide. This is the family of the perpetrator. Their fight started long ago. They have fought the mental health system and lost. They tried to get help for their son, nephew, brother, but because he was over the age of 18, no one would help them. No one could help them legally either. Every day they woke up worried and went to bed worried. They were afraid that something would happen, and it finally did.They are probably relieved that their loved one is still alive, but can’t express that feeling publicly because there are other families grieving the loss of their loved one. This horror began with an illness so insidious that it makes you ill, but at the same time convinces you that you aren’t really sick. There is no fever, blood test or x-ray that can tell someone that they have Schizophrenia. The illness is a thief. It steals your sanity, it steals your friends and family, many times it steals your life.Had this young man killed himself, it might not have even made the news. Ten percent of those diagnosed with Schizophrenia die within the first decade after their diagnosis, and often from suicide. Forty percent attempt it. When this illness turns outward, it always makes the front page. Who could have stopped it? How could it have been prevented? The easy answer is through proper treatment. The hard answer is how do we do that. Early diagnosis, followed by proper medical intervention is the only way these heart-breaking stories will stop.The one thing this small minority of mentally ill individuals, who act out violently have in common is that they are not getting appropriate treatment. They have either never been diagnosed, or they have been improperly medicated, or have willfully refused their medication. If we were talking about someone’s 80-year-old grandfather, who has dementia and has disappeared, it would be on every news report. There would be police out searching for him. However, when an 18-year-old young man with a mental illness has disappeared onto the streets, the police will not even come out to take a police report. Laws grant officials in other jurisdictions and countries the ability to pick up someone who is too ill to properly take care of themselves, and to make sure they receive the health care they need. How many people have to die before we collectively agree that taking care of people who cannot take care of themselves is more important than worrying about what civil libertarians think? How many families in our communities are living in fear that their loved one will be the next one on the front page?
Austin Mardon received the Order of Canada for his mental health advocacy. He has suffered from Schizophrenia since he was a young man. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can read more at austinmardon.org.