Assist people with mental illnesses to thrive not die!
I'm so glad I didn't kill myself when I wanted to.
I was pretty sure that suicide was my only option. In fact, I was convinced that I wanted nothing more than for the pain I felt inside to go away, and to be at peace from the anguish and chaos in my mind.
The suffering seemed intolerable, and I carried it for years.
What I didn't know, and it took me a long time to learn, was that these thoughts were symptoms. I had depression, an anxiety disorder, a history of trauma.
After lots (and lots and lots) of practice, and more than a few set backs, I discovered a powerful lesson. We think what we learn. That was pretty powerful for me. It meant that, since we could learn new things, we could also learn to think differently.
But I didn't know that when I felt my worst, when I thought that I wanted to die. I wouldn't have believed it anyway.
I believed the lies that my mental illness told me.
What I needed most during those times was compassionate and caring people - family, friends, doctors - who wouldn't believe those lies too.
When I most wanted to give up, I needed people who wouldn't.
A parliamentary committee has recommended that doctors assist in the death of people with mental illnesses who want to die by suicide.
You can read the full report for yourself here: http://goo.gl/5kxGkL
Based on this, I believe that the majority of the committee members deeply misunderstand how and why suicide happens among people with mental health problems and illnesses. They misunderstand that death by suicide in these cases is a tragic outcome of what didn't need to be a terminal illness.
They misunderstand that when someone is suicidal, while our capacity and competency to make decisions usually remains, the options we have to choose from become limited and distorted by the very symptoms we're fighting to overcome. That doesn't mean we can't make choices - it means we could choose differently were other options available to our minds.
In an effort to be equal to both physical and mental illnesses, the committee overlooked what our real responsibility as a compassionate society is to people living with mental health problems. We need to ensure that they have every reason to live, and every option to thrive.
Mental illnesses do not have to be terminal.
This is not about end-of-life care. It is not about dying with dignity. It isn't about religion, or politics, or constitutional theory.
This is about not giving up.
Recovery from even seemingly "irremediable" mental illnesses is not just possible - it's likely and even expected with the right supports and within a system that works.
The Supreme Court gave the government until June 6
It's by then that government will need to produce new laws to deal with this issue. I'm asking that before then we tell the government that this part of the committee's recommendations regarding the assisted death of people with mental illnesses is unacceptable.
It is not compassionate, or progressive, to abandon people with mental health problems and illnesses when they need us most. That's not who we are.
Everyone who is struggling deserves assistance in finding their way to thrive.
- Prime Minister of Canada/Premier ministre du Canada
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:
Suicide is a preventable public health problem.
Most Canadians support the right to die with dignity in the face of irremediable illness. This petition is not about that. What it’s about is the fact that there is no evidence that any mental health problem is irremediable in the same way as some physical ailments. The reason that people with mental illnesses suffer as they do include systemic failures in our health and social care systems, as well as deeply rooted stigma and discrimination in our society.
It would be a betrayal of our progressive, compassionate country’s nature to permit our healthcare providers to assist in the suicides of a group of people that we are failing. They are not suffering only because of what they have – they are also suffering because of how we treat them.
We in the mental health community, especially those of us who have lived experience of a mental health problem, have been fighting for mental health to receive equitable acknowledgement to physical health for years. In an effort to do so, sometimes we make comparisons which portray mental health problems like depression as being no different from physical health issues like cancer.
In reality, mental health problems actually account for a greater economic toll on Canada than that of all cancers combined. Major depressive disorder is classified by the World Health Organization as being as potentially disabling as quadriplegia. However, there is as yet no known inherent, biological circumstance in which somebody with depression will exhaust treatment options and die as a result of their illness. The same is true for nearly all mental illnesses.
So when we make biological comparisons, we mean it in terms of the health care resources, respect, and passion that should be committed to addressing these issues. There is no question that mental health problems have a biological component. However, depression is not cancer. There is no situation in which depression – or any mental health problem – needs to be terminal, irremediable, or even nearly as disabling as it can be. By some estimates, more than 80% of people recover when they receive the help they need.
Recovery from mental health problems is not just possible, it’s expected and likely when people receive the help and support appropriate to their needs. However, it is very likely that someone with a mental health problem who becomes suicidal has not been afforded every opportunity to recover from their illness. That’s not their fault. It’s the fault of a system which isn’t designed to support them effectively.
Just as some disorders attack your blood, your lungs, or your heart, mental health problems attack how you perceive the world around you. This doesn’t mean that people with mental illnesses can’t or shouldn’t make choices on their own. In fact, having the ability to choose from a variety of high-quality, culturally sensitive, and effective treatment options is key to promoting recovery. The problem is that most people with mental illnesses don’t have this choice. If your only options are to live in suffering or to die, some choose to die. Let’s ensure that there’s a third way for them to choose, which many currently lack, which is to recover and to thrive.
How do we get there? Canada has a full range of advanced mental health treatment options and some of the best clinical and research minds in the world. However, they are largely inaccessible to people who need them the most. They are hardly accessible to people who need them the least. If something is inaccessible, then it is unavailable.
We can make the mental health system more integrated, more equitably resourced, and more accessible to all. Yes, this will mean more funding. The portion of federal health spending that goes to mental health care needs to be at least 10%, but a dedicated 12-15% would be a game changer. It will also mean broadening the availability of treatment options, including non-medical interventions like psychology, psychotherapy, social work, and peer support. Doing this will reduce the pressure on psychiatrists, emergency rooms, and inpatient units, so that they can be more effective in their necessary function. We can more rigorously track and reduce wait times for mental health services, improve housing and financial supports, and increase the mental health literacy of our police, legal, and corporate communities.
Most of all, we can reduce the stigma. For all of human history, we’ve discriminated against people with mental illnesses. It’s only now that we’re talking about mental health in a more positive, recovery oriented way. We’re on the brink of incredible change, on the leading edge of a worldwide movement toward equality and hope for every one of the one in five people who deal with a mental health problem or illness each year.
Let’s not go backward. Let’s choose not to give up on people who need us the most. Let’s choose to enable them not to die, but to thrive.
That’s going to take more than words. So let’s get to work.
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