Saturday, January 15, 2011

Your Recession is My Depression

by CY

It may not be unusual for those who are mentally ill to have run-ins with the police. Nigel Elder suffered from schizophrenia and life was confusing for him. On January 12, the police were called because someone saw a man waving a gun from a moving vehicle. 50 officers, including police negotiators and tactical squad officers, soon chased Nigel. 

Nigel was confused. He didn’t have any gun, and he just wanted to get a slice of pizza. It may very well be that his unusual behavior partly caused by schizophrenia, in addition to the fact that he is black, contributed to the police standoff. 

Nigel was eventually charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana and driving without a driver’s license. The mother, Maria Elder, believed her son should have been treated as someone with a mental illness, not a criminal. 

Even though I do not suffer from schizophrenia, I know the last thing a person dealing with mental health challenges needs is to go through a traumatizing experience with armed police officers.

I also know the outside world is a cruel and painful place to live in for someone who is considered a visible minority and experiencing mental health and employment difficulties.

We also know from research that mental health issues like depression, anxiety and psychosis are linked to discrimination based on a person’s race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex.

Many immigrants and former immigrants, including myself, struggle everyday to find or work at low pay and highly stressful employment. According to psychiatrist Kwama McKenzie, our risk of developing mental illness increases every time we experience discrimination, feel threatened or attacked by our employers, police authorities, or suffer verbal/physical abuse.

According to Steve Lurie, the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, people living with serious mental illness are likely to die 25 years earlier.

Even though I have a university education, I accept whatever job is thrown at me, despite the fact that I have never had a full time job and all my jobs have been of extremely low pay and temporary in nature. As a result, I have accumulated a huge load of debts and I live in fear when I am unemployed.

Lately, I notice my mental state is worsening everyday as I realize that no one has called me for an interview or a job offer.  Even though I am regularly taking my anti-depressant pills, I am becoming paranoid, and unemployment is eating away at me that I found it increasingly difficult to cope with daily life in a healthy way.

Maybe, just maybe, my situation is partly due to the fact that Canada spends only 5% of its health budget on mental health share services, less than most OECD countries, and the province of Ontario, where I reside, spends less per capita that most other provinces on mental health.

We have enough pundits trying to convince us of an economic recovery. When are they going to start talking about our mental recovery?


  1. There are so many mentally ill people here in the streets of New York, the cops just wait around for them to do something arrest-worthy. It's just commonplace to see lots of people walking around talking to themselves or dragging around all their possessions.

    Medication is the answer to everything in the U.S. Even the poorest can get over to some good psych meds, thanks to Medicaid. That's one aspect of "socialized medicine" I'll bet the right wing will never stamp out. The thought of millions of mentally ill poor people in the streets, off their meds doesn't sound good for the urban "economy" (which always only means freedom to window shop for the middle class, the wealthy and the tourists).

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