Should we segregate those with mental illness?

Christine Wood/Staff Writer / Staff writer
September 20, 2013 01:00 AM

Do you think we should live alongside those with severe mental illness or keep them segregated in institutions away from society?

The latter view was held by most Canadians in the early 1900s when mental asylums were first opened across Canada. It was thought that by taking "those with madness" out of their home environments, they could be "cured" with medication, strict daily routines and moral teaching.

The "cure" rate of people in those institutions was low at best, and gradually stories of wrongful confinement, scientific experiments and other wrongdoings emerged.

By the second half of the 20th century, it was pretty clear the asylums weren't living up to their curative promise, and with the development of new drugs it was hoped those with mental illness would be able to live "normal" lives.

Patients were released from institutions with little more than experimental drugs and high hopes they'd do well.

Canada was woefully unprepared to handle the needs of all those patients who were left without counselling, employment or housing assistance.

Fast-forward to today and I see our country still trying to play catch up.

There are some supports for those with mental illness, but many are living on incredibly inadequate subsidies from the government that ultimately leave them homeless or hungry or both.

Community groups like Arrowhead have stepped up on the Coast to offer a safe place for people with mental illness to gather, share meals and learn life skills together in a non-judgmental atmosphere, but some people need more support.

That's just what's being offered at Sumac Place on Kiwanis Way in Gibsons - the Coast's only recovery home for those with mental illness.

The facility is equipped with 28 rooms for residents, who receive daily care from psychiatrists, nurses, recreational therapists, rehabilitation workers, occupational therapists, social workers, dieticians and counsellors.

Residents learn how to cook and clean and care for themselves, and they're challenged to find something they're passionate about to pursue.

Residents are also taught how to cope with daily challenges in ways that work best for them, and once they feel prepared, they're moved from the facility into a community of their choosing.

Throughout their time at Sumac Place, residents aren't confined to the site. In fact, they're encouraged to get out in public with staff because that's the ultimate goal: to feel comfortable and capable in society.

Sumac Place runs on a recovery model that "empowers individuals living with mental illness to live their best life," and I think it's fantastic. The only downside is that it's too small.

There are dozens of Coasters who could use the kind help being offered at Sumac Place, but at this point there's not enough money in the health authority budget or enough proven success of the recovery model to find funding for more sites.

Sumac Place seems to be the best model we have to support people living with severe mental illness, and I hope the powers that be will expand the model in the future.

I think we all deserve a place in our community and that we all have something to give and something to learn from one another. Some of us need a little more love and support to get through life's challenges, but that's the role of a community.

The vision statement penned by those now living at Sumac Place reads "People, working together to restore hope within the hearts of individuals, to discover and develop personal strengths and overcome challenges with acceptance, compassion and respect."

Maybe we should all adopt it.

© Coast Reporter

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