submitted by Holden C., Vancouver BC
Our system of care has remained relatively unchanged for many years. There is no adaptive framework to this system. It has become calloused, stubborn, and stuck in its old ways. The fabric of this system needs to be torn, so we can do away with old thinking, and see mental health in an entirely new way.
I was first prescribed benzodiazepines and hypnotics at the age of 17, to treat an anxiety disorder and insomnia. I was prescribed these medications in excess, and without much directive or precautionary information.
I was too young to have been put on habit-forming medications, and first-line treatments, such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and other non-pharmacological options, weren’t emphasized or explored until later. But by then I had already developed a habit.
I turned to harder drugs, and found myself drinking alcohol more than usual. My illness intensified as a result, and grew increasingly worse as the years passed. I developed new symptoms – mood swings and psychosis – and new diagnoses were added to my chart. I was transferred from doctor to doctor. Script after script. Sedative after sedative. There had never been any continuity of care in my treatment. An addict wandering the mental healthcare system for 14 years. Yet, no one noticed.
A couple days ago, at the age of 31, I lay on my couch, thinking of those I’d hurt. I was teary-eyed, and just barely over the withdrawals. This was recovery. It had taken 14 years for me to find help. I took my withdrawal meds, then fell asleep.
Few seem to grasp the consequences and staggering costs associated with untreated mental health challenges: costs borne by those who struggle with mental illness and addiction, their families, and society as a whole. Mental health challenges can, if left untreated, lead to suicide, substance abuse, homelessness, and chronic physical illness. We are amid an epidemic. It’s time to invest in a cure.
Our mental healthcare system is underfunded and overburdened. It lacks the resources to keep up with a rising demand for mental health provisions. Many in urgent need of help are being placed on long waitlists for vital treatment and care. Others are left unaware of essential programs and services as they struggle to navigate a convoluted setup of care.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting early intervention can unburden our strained mental healthcare system. Research shows that treating mental health challenges early leads to fewer relapses, and better overall prognoses – reducing the costs associated with mental illness and substance abuse. Programs offering mental health education can also reduce the incidence of relapse, and in some cases, may prevent mental illness and addiction entirely.
I found myself in a dream. I was 17 again. I sat in an office. A doctor walked in, handed me a prescription for Clonazepam, Diazepam, Lorazepam, and Zopiclone, and then walked out the door without speaking a word.
Suddenly, I was 31. I found myself in a pharmacy, dazed and confused. A pharmacist approached me, holding out a vial. I recognized the label on the vial, it was the same label I’d read many times before: Diazepam. I slowly reached to take the vial, then hesitated. I shook my head, and turned to walk away. A voice called out to me. “Refill!” I spun around to find that the pharmacist had vanished, but that the vial remained. I grabbed the pills and ran.
Additional funding for mental healthcare is desperately needed in Canada. We, as mental healthcare consumers and providers, must advocate for greater investment in mental health infrastructure, programs, and services. Redirecting resources to fund mental health education, and early intervention would go a long way towards promoting recovery for many who struggle with mental health challenges.
We must see mental health and physical health as being equally important. In BC, the Canadian Mental Health Association has begun their B4Stage4 campaign, hoping to change the way we think about mental illness and addiction. By shining a spotlight on the value of prevention and early intervention, they want to ensure our system of care treats mental illness, addiction and physical illness equally. The campaign’s analogy is straightforward. Physicians would never knowingly wait until stage 4 to treat cancer, and the same should be true when it comes to mental health challenges. B4Stage4 calls for mental health education and screening, and emphasizes treatment in the early stages of mental illness and addiction.
When I woke, I checked my emails. An assignment. A little bit of structure goes a long way in the life of a recovering addict. I stared into a perched mirror on the wall. My skin looked clear. I had lost weight. My heavy stubble had been shaved the morning before. I bore a slight resemblance to my younger, 17-year-old self. I turned to my computer, and typed: 14 years.
submitted by Holden C., Vancouver BC