White Rock resident Cyndie Richards has been following The Leader’s series on mental illness, and wrote the following letter in response:
I am writing regarding my 33-year-old son, of no fixed address.
He has a long history of undiagnosed mental health issues and drug abuse. He has been in and out of rehab centres, recovery houses, hospitals, prison, and lately with increasing frequency, Colony Farm (a forensic psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam).
You see, my son has been granted the great privilege bestowed on our citizens – the ability to make his own choices. He has the ability to choose his own health care or lack thereof; his own living conditions (on the street); his own drug dealer; his own drug (his was heroin, now it’s crystal meth); whether he will take his antipsychotic drug or not; and whether he will steal or randomly attack some innocent person because the “voices in his head tell him to.” He has been bestowed with the great responsibility to make free healthy choices.
The only problem is – he can’t.
Last month my younger son drove to Central City Shopping Centre to pick up a card and flowers for his girlfriend, only to see some “crazy guy in the parking lot doing the crazy chicken dance.”
On closer inspection he was horrified to realize that “crazy guy” was in fact his older brother. He explained “Mom, he wasn’t just the eyes-downcast druggie, but that full-fledged out-of-his-mind mentally disturbed guy.”
He drove away. I as his mother went looking for him on the streets of Whalley. I found him out of his mind. I called the police to help me take him to the hospital. They were very accommodating. At Surrey Memorial Hospital my son was eventually restrained and medicated. I met with the resident psychiatrist the next day. She wouldn’t recommend committing him. She said he would first have to deal with his addiction, which would probably take six months of being clean to diagnose.
I asked why you don’t first treat his mental illness so that he can then be well enough to deal with his addiction. She said there were no programs like that and unfortunately he would fall through the cracks.
They said I couldn’t see him because he was still in a restricted “safe” area but they soon discharged him to the public. The irony seemed to be lost on them.
When I was young, people who could not make proper decisions for themselves were committed until they were stable enough to make clear, healthy choices for themselves. Where did all those hospitals go?
Now, all there seems to be are prisons. That can’t be right. Surely our mentally ill citizens deserve better than prison.
Wouldn’t it be logical to build a hospital which only dealt with the mentally ill or dual diagnosis – a hospital full of trained professionals with the authority to detain people until they are well enough to make decisions for themselves?
The questions remains, how have we all collectively let this happen to our mentally ill? Why have we abandoned them all under the disgusting pretext of “free will?” Would we let our under-age children make their own choices?
My boy was once a much-loved healthy, handsome, smart, athletic, funny, brother and son. Now he is still loved, but lives on the streets or in random recovery houses, with little or no hope.
If he was your son or brother, where would you send him where he could be held until he could receive the necessary help he so desperately deserves? I can’t think of any places either.
Change takes time. We are running out of it. I read The Leader’s insightful article about Brian Bylo and his parents’ struggle (“Life behind an inch of glass,” March 14).
Our family and countless other families are not skilled or equipped to deal with the severity of our children’s mental illness and addiction. We have become the frontline – the government’s dumping ground for the mentally ill. They close mental institutions, only to build more prisons. Our prisons now house the mentally ill, the drug addict, and the drug dealer.
Perhaps if we all band together, we can save the lives of the countless sons and daughters of our, cities, province, and country. The citizens of Canada deserve better.
Just five days after he was discharged, my son broke into his father’s home. Thankfully, his home was alarmed and the police came before he could do any harm.
Mark my words: This will end badly. My son will either die or hurt another innocent person and the responsibility for that will lie on the collective heads of all who stood by and did nothing to stop this travesty.
– Cyndie Richards