Dear Mr. Trudeau,
I am writing to you because I’ve had enough of Ontario’s flawed mental health system.
I am one of the 6.7 million of Canadians struggling with mental health issues. I live in St. Catharines, Ontario, and I have dealt with anxiety and depression for over seven years. I have a pretty good mental health routine set in place. I have regular check-ups with my family doctor and attend counselling sessions once or twice each month. However, there are still a lot of problems in the health care system regarding mental health, including lack of care, lack of compassion and stigmatization.
My friend, Shelley Marshall, has dealt with the brutality in the mental health care system for years. She is open about her experiences on Facebook, and through her play about mental illness called ‘Hold Mommy’s Cigarette’. She lives in Toronto, and one of her more recent incidents prompted me to write this letter. Shelley had an accidental overdose – the doctor increased her medication from 150 to 225, but she accidently started taking 300 – which led to extreme side effects. She called her doctor’s office.
“Hi, I’m a patient and I wonder if I could talk to my doctor about an accidental overdose of a mood disorder medication I am on… I am too afraid to go to the hospital, but I need to know if these symptoms can be managed at home?”
“Sure! But we have to charge you.”
When she called back the next day, after her doctor never returned her message, the receptionist hung up on her when she expressed her concerns.
This made me so mad. Instead of even asking if she’s okay, they asked for money. Isn’t Canada supposed to have free health care? Not only that, but if all she said was ‘accidental overdose’, they have no indication of what state she’s in or if she’s in danger.
I’ve had bad experiences with the mental health system, too. I have been to the hospital three times because I had suicidal thoughts. All three times were horrible; nothing got resolved, and I left feeling worse than I did when I got there. I don’t really remember much about the first visit, but I do remember how I felt after.
I suffered from acute PTSD because of the events leading up to the visit, and the fact that I was simply let go less than 24 hours after arriving. I am telling you this because it’s a reality for many. I’m telling you the brutal truth, becausesomeone needs to hear it.
The second time I went, I was put into a room with couches where the doctor sat down, crossed his arms, leaned back and asked, “How are you going to do it? Do you have a gun to shoot yourself?” I said no, and he left.
They gave me a pill and released me – without a plan to stay safe. After, I ran and wouldn’t stop. I crossed a street without looking and almost got run over by a car. I don’t remember if I intended to jump in front of the car; but with the mindset I had, I wouldn’t have cared if that car had hit me.
The third time I went was probably the worst. My close friend and I got locked in a tiny, cold room with white padded walls, a bed with only a mattress, and very thin blanket. That room alone was horrible. We waited for six to eight hours, and no one came and talk to me until she left – when they knew I didn’t want to talk without her.
I also remember that on my first and third visit, when I was waiting to see a doctor, I hurt myself. I was alone for hours, and no one was watching me. A suicidal patient shouldn’t be alone. Why was I?
On my third visit, I saw the doctor’s desk from my room. Instead of checking in and taking care of patients, the staff were leaned back in their chair, texting and eating. It was disrespectful, and it made me feel like they just threw me aside.
I know multiple people who have had horrible experiences with the mental health system.
One of my other friends went to the hospital a few years ago because of extreme side effects of medication. She thought something was seriously wrong and she was scared. They put her in a hospital bed in the middle of the hallway. When she was explaining what was happening and how she was feeling, the doctor made rude comments, made fun of her and looked at her like she was crazy.
She went back to the hospital as she was severely depressed, having low-functioning suicidal thoughts. She had no one to take care ofher to the extent that she needed, and she had a similar experience to what I had before.
She waited 7-8 hours in the waiting room, then got put into the room with couches. A doctor came and sat on the couch unprofessionally – leaning back, sitting on the arm like he was at someone’s house.
He asked, “Do you have a plan to kill yourself? Do you hear voices in the toaster?”
When she said no, the doctor told her she didn’t need any help and to go home.
A friend of someone else I know went to the hospital because she was feeling anxious and depressed. The staff sexually harassed her and made fun of her.
All of these happened at my local hospital, which is known for having a mental health unit and supposedly good resources. But those who haven’t been there don’t know what it’s like, and will never truly know. I had to go to the ER a few weeks ago because I had an infection. I hated being there because it brought back bad memories. I cried and felt anxious almost the whole time I was waiting.
20% of Canadians deal with mental health issues – this is 6.7 million people. Yet, only 7% of Canada’s health funding goes to mental health, and it seems to be the first area they cut from. 4,000 Canadians die by suicide each year. Many of these could’ve been prevented if the hospitals took threats seriously. According to the Ontario Association for Suicide Prevention, people who attempt or have suicidal thoughts don’t necessarily want to die, they just want their suffering to end.
Furthermore, “eight out of 10 people who die by suicide gave some, or even many, indications of their intentions.” There have been many stories on the news over the past couple of years about people committing or attempting suicide right after being released from the hospital. Many years ago, this same thing happened with Shelley Marshall.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death. Instead of it being ignored, it should be a national concern – not something only advocates care about.
There are so many proven tools and techniques that help people with mental health issues. These could – and should be – implemented into the system; they could be useful and effective when treating patients, and it could give them tools to survive outside the hospital.
Why is Canada the only developed country without a national mental health strategy or plan in place? Why are people not safe or cared for in hospitals during mental health situations? Why is it that they say to go to the hospital if you’re in a crisis, but you don’t get the help you need?
It’s been a year since I saw your interview on The Social. I know you’re a mental health advocate, and that it runs in your family. I bet it can be frustrating to see what’s happening with the system, and I know that you’re trying. But we need anew strategy, because the one we have not is not helping anyone.
As a community, we need to get people on the same page. Starting now. People that are in crisis situations are scared to go to the hospital, where they’re supposed to feel safe. I have lost all trust and faith in the system. I don’t know what I’m going to do the next time I’m in a crisis situation, because I’m not going to the hospital again until something changes. Something needs to change – and fast.