The 5 Star Hotel

There was an article in the local paper speaking to the issue of some kinks in the new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health. I won’t speak specifically to the electronic issues of the new facility. I don’t see it as newsworthy to report on a building that has problems upon start up. Don’t they all? It may be alarming to staff to have a patient in an area they shouldn’t be in but I doubt if it is a first. As a member of the public and having the benefit of a tour I can see exit from the actual building being unlikely. The staff is trained to deal with these situations and they have the backup of hospital security.  St. Thomas itself has a police force and the Ontario Provincial Police Detachment is less than a kilometer away. Making it far would again be unlikely. I wonder what the underlying sentiment is.

Seeing the comments following the article illustrates at least one issue.

I was at the opening and noticed…

Each patient has their own room, bathroom, DVD player and flat screen, comfortable lounge areas, outside courtyard with fountain, quiet room with wall fountain, lazy boy chair and sheepskin carpet, washer/dryer for every 6 patients, refreshment area with TV for every 6 patients, windows everywhere, fancy expensive hospital beds for people who are not physically sick or handicapped and patients are playing with controls and staff can’t fix it.

Sad to see a 5 star hotel where people are housed that have committed violent crimes, yet seniors and more deserving mental patients and handicapped people are in one star facilities.”

When we talk about stigma it takes on an obtuse form. These comments bring into focus the specific nature of the attitudes that lead to stigma.

“fancy expensive hospital beds for people who are not physically sick or handicapped…

Apparently this person is unaware of the fact that mental illness can be debilitating. It can be a permanent disability for some individuals. I feel sorry for the writer of these comments. If they ever fall in with the one in five who deal with mental illness they will be throwing away a good mattress. If people with mental illness are not worthy of a comfortable bed I suspect this person wouldn`t be either. It makes complete sense though to build a new facility and use 20 year old beds. A few of the old windows were usable as well.

This person seems to think there are degrees of value and worse that they are responsible for allocating it. For this person a judgement needs to be made to determine if someone is deserving. I have seen many forms of mental illness and experienced several. Try as I might I can`t think of any that are not deserving of compassion, respect, dignity or even comfort.

“Sad to see a 5 star hotel where people are housed that have committed violent crimes…”

It`s sad that this person was so preoccupied with making judgements that they didn`t listen to the guide clearly dispel this fallacy.

I would be curious to know what judgement needs to be made when a senior with a mental illness commits a crime. They are a senior so they are worthy of a comfortable bed but I guess they should sleep on concrete because their mental illness brought them into conflict with the law. Seniors sometimes find themselves involved with forensic mental health. Would grandma lose her worth in such a situation?

“more deserving mental patients”    Is my mental illness worth less than another?

This all reminds me of the hierarchy among prisoners. Your position in the pecking order was determined by your crime. It was an act that determined your worth. When you are literally stripped of everything you must create some other measure of value. Sex offenders were the lowest with a sub category reserved for pedophiles. I was often fascinated by the dynamics this created. The main fault of such a system is that in order to create your false sense of worth someone else has to be devalued. Jail is in some ways a mirror for the rest of society.

Inequality serves the purpose of overcoming feelings of inadequacy. We create a wider social pecking order and do our best not to be seen near the bottom. Prejudice is a tool to devalue another and discrimination is the application of attitudes whose underlying purpose is to create a false sense of worth in self.

The values we place on each other are a social construct; a fallacy that can and does lead to prejudice and discrimination. It is a house of cards if our worth is dependent on the devaluation of others.

We all put our pants on one leg at a time.

Replaced by Shame

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/news/story/2013/06/21/hamilton-antidormi.html

If Lori Triano–Antidormi can use logic, insight and compassion to see through her tragedy, is it too much to ask our politicians to call on the same?

I am in total agreement that Bill C-54 will not prevent the tragedies that it springs from. Only improved mental health services will prevent these tragedies. Are we content knowing that individuals with serious and persistent mental illness are falling through the cracks? I guess as long as we can deny them the light of day for 3 years there really isn’t an issue. Am I the only one who finds it illogical that we are choosing to punish people who need our help and worse are in these circumstances because they haven’t received it? It is distasteful that the very government that chooses to punish is the one that could lend the hand to prevent the crime. Bill C-54 is like increasing the penalty for stealing a loaf of bread. Instead of cutting off the other hand we need to address the hunger. The lack of mental health services is a wound this government would rather turn away from. Take comfort in the fact that the band-aid they are blindly applying will have the conservative party colours like the prime minister’s plane. Is anyone else alarmed by the fact that the Canadian Criminal Code will soon have a section we can all refer to as the “blue pages”?

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2013/06/08/colourful_paint_job_on_harpers_plane_sparks_criticism.html

The Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will have us believe Bill C-54 will provide the ability to impose non-communication orders, geographical limitations and keep high risk accused within institution walls. The existing system already provides these protections. Non-communication orders are issued along with geographical limitations and rest assured no one who is in any way a risk is permitted beyond a secure setting.

 “Why put so much effort into something that’s working…” because this government considers re-election more important than fulfilling their obligation of being elected in the first place. Bill C-54 will likely pass not because it is sound but because of the political noise that reverberates in the heads of the “ill informed.”

Prime Minister Harper has no expression because he has no clue.

I may not have much love for the conservatives but it is easily replaced by shame.

The Limestone Remains: The Care Continues

St. Joseph’s Health Care delivered an open house and official closing for the hospital that has housed thousands including myself. What would it have been like to be stationed there or employed there? I was legally obliged to be there which interfered with my perspective. I wonder at the impression the building made on others. When you are allowed to move freely through a building it has a different impact than when you are locked in.

I was surprised to see so many members of the public. I saw strollers and canes. I am pleased the public has no apprehension in entering these facilities when they are empty. I am hopeful it lessens their apprehension regarding the occupants.

The closing ceremony was very moving and meaningful. I was near the back as we proceeded down the hallway and out of the building. Lights were turned out and the doors slammed. I was in tears for part of the long walk down the hall. I was crying for people I know and for those I knew. I was crying for what I lost and for what I have gained.

I was given the honour of lowering the hospital flag. I wanted to keep the flag so I could scream to heaven to my good friend Ed – “we have captured the flag!” I realize there are no sides to this battle but it all seems like a victory for those who struggle with mental illness.

I know Ed is smiling down at the efforts of so many.

Thank you St. Joseph’s Health Care.

Gift Shop

When I was a patient at the old hospital much of it was abandoned. It was able to accommodate 5000 but while I was there the few wards that existed housed less than 200 clients. As I wandered the long hallways I began to internalize the perception that I too was abandoned and forgotten. The fact that there was no gift shop in this hospital conveys the reality.

Why wouldn’t a hospital devoted to mental health have a gift shop? I don’t imagine hospitals profit much from gift shops but the patients do. If we all visited those with mental illness in the same fashion we do for “physical” illness there would be gift shops. If you don’t think stigma is a reality this would seem an almost physical manifestation of it. Our perceptions lead us physically away from those with mental illness. We know the value in visiting the sick but the whispers we grew up with keep us at a distance.

The new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health has a gift shop. Maybe they gladly accept visitors and it’s not “as close as you want to get” but rather As Near As Your Beliefs Will Take You.