Mental illness is a tragedy which affects many families either through directly through a family member, a close friend or in suffering from it yourself. Exposure to mental illness in your life is a life-changing event and it can impact greatly on your life and those around you. My late husband, Robert L. Small, whose parents came from the same general area in which I now live, died suddenly at the age of thirty-nine. He was a wonderful person and for years neither he nor his family nor I were aware that he suffered from manic depression. The shock of his death will never entirely leave me, no matter how much life has moved on. He did not survive his illness.
Some with mental illness struggle daily to deal with it, some recover to lead productive lives and others do not. And I always think, there but for the Grace of God go I or any one of us in this life. Given my experience with Bob’s early death in my life, I became intensely aware that life is a gift and that our lives here on earth are short in terms of humanity. It is important to make the most of our lives, in whatever way we can. Enthusiastically trying to impart this information however to my two children and later, two step-children, I became well aware that the intensity of my feelings and experience was not theirs……children have to follow their own paths in life… as we all do. But, we are only given one life to live.
Our health care system pays lip service to mental illness. I have found that the dignity allowed physical illness is not always present for those with a mental illness and thus, my advocating for greater awareness still remains:
My letter, published in The Orangeville Citizen, 2017: Mentally Ill’s needs not met
May 12, 2017
The article on mental health awareness “The Stigma Remains” by Tabitha Wells was so insightfully written that I would like to commend for having the courage to speak in the first person as experiencing a form of mental illness. She has made mental illness real and present. By putting into words how an illness like this feels, how others do not understand it, how those unfamiliar with a mental illness are frightened by it yet acknowledging too that others who have not experienced mental illness, the stigma remains, unspoken perhaps, but there. Many years ago, my late husband, whose family was from this area, suffered from manic depression which none of us knew at
the time nor was he diagnosed until his early thirties. He died at the age of thirty-nine and was one of the kindest and warmest individuals I’ve known. He was ‘happy-go- lucky’ as people said back then, not knowing that his happiness may have lain in his manic highs. He had a wonderful sense of humour and he was charismatic, he drew people to him. And he also had two serious episodes with this disorder, the last of which, he did not survive. In more recent years, I’ve been exposed to mental illness in a milder form through a family member who has since recovered and in expressing my concern through this experience, I have commented in writing and in person regarding Headwaters Hospital lack of recognition in doing something concrete to accommodate the needs of those in a mental health crisis. The fact is, there is still no separate entrance, no separate examining room and no separate holding room at Headwaters Hospital for those in a mental health crisis who may then be sent elsewhere for treatment. They are still placed together with those in a physical health crisis in the emergency department at Headwaters. The reality is that when someone is in a mental health crisis it can be frightening to witness, it is difficult for the doctors and nurses attending these patients and for the patients themselves who are often unaware of their surroundings only that they, too are suffering. To not have a small area separate from the present emergency department is not giving consideration to the medical staff nor the patient in a mental health crisis. When Headwaters Hospital announced their recent expansion, I wrote a letter again to the hospital asking if there would be accommodation for a separate entrance and separate examining room for those in a mental health crisis into the emergency department and was told no. While Headwaters is not a mental health hospital in its specialization, still, they do not appear to be accepting of or concerned enough that the mind and body are one and an illness in both areas is a legitimate medical emergency. While respect is given the physically ill patient at Headwaters, the mentally ill patient is not given the same consideration of respect or allowed the personal dignity of privacy given to the physically ill patient. So my question is why. And I am given a stock answer and a run-around response in not answering the question directly by the person in charge of the development at Headwaters who obviously is representing the hospital as a whole. And so, I still ask, why is there not a separate entrance into a small area located beside or near the present emergency department for those in a mental health crisis?