In light of news that a client of Arrowhead attempted suicide two weeks ago, I'm moved to write about the need for a centre for these often ignored and sometimes feared members of our society. Arrowhead is a drop-in centre for adults with severe or persistent mental illness. It is the only facility of its kind on the Coast and its staff reaches out to dozens of people who need help every year.
It all started about nine years ago when a small group began meeting in a living room, trying to find ways to support each other and enhance their recovery.
That core group created the Arrowhead Drop-in Centre, a non-profit private society located on Cowrie Street that offers peer support, counselling and access to mental health services.
Arrowhead is extremely, often critically, important to many people. At last count, the centre had more than 75 members benefiting from its services.
However, families of clients also receive help from Arrowhead, so a more appropriate estimation of those helped is in the hundreds.
Last week we heard of two men who used the drop-in centre who were taken to hospital after one tried to poison himself and the other threatened to end his life because "he just felt he could not go on," said Ken Cain, chairman of the Arrowhead board.
Both men were treated at hospital, but the band-aid doesn't address the serious wound left on many who are mentally ill and in need of help.
Arrowhead wants to do more, but they are financially unable. Up until last year, they were government funded. But they ended up on the Liberal chopping block along with many other social service-type industries across the province.
Still, Arrowhead refused to close its doors on the many people in need of a place to feel accepted, safe and encouraged.
"In practical everyday terms, Arrowhead provides a place to shower, eat, do laundry, watch TV and just be accepted - all things we take for granted but that are so important and basic to members," said Cain.
Often Arrowhead is the first step into the mental health system and a lasting support to those in recovery, which sounds incredibly worthy of funding and space in our community. Yet the society is grossly under-funded and looking for a new space to occupy because their current rent is stretching their tight budget too thin.
Government agencies are debating letting Arrowhead move into the old RCMP building in Sechelt, which needs to be used by a public service, non-profit organization, but so far with no promises to Arrowhead.
Arrowhead is feeling the strain of demand for their services and a lack of money to help.
Staff are at the breaking point and clients are thinking about suicide because they feel the situation is hopeless.
Do people have to die before we stand up and acknowledge how important Arrowhead is? Many people who have relationships with the mentally ill take advantage of them, fear them, ignore the problem or end the relationship. They throw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. But mental illness is an illness, a treatable illness like a cold or the flu. And maybe the majority of us don't want to deal with these people, but here is a group of dedicated people who see the person above the illness and want to help. In fact, they're determined to help.
Let's reward their efforts by lobbying to restore funding, get them into a low-cost space and thank them for doing what so many of us feel we don't have the time or the courage to do - care.