I had a meeting with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter MacKay

I was sitting at an elegant table in the elegant Shaw Centre in Ottawa. We were gathered for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health Champions of Mental Health Awards. The Parliament Buildings were to my right as was my beautiful wife and I was simply minding my own business. A senator who didn’t look anything like Mike Duffy came round the table and gave me his business card. I smiled and gave him mine.

I noticed the Minister of Justice Peter MacKay schmoozing and posing for photographs like some redundant rock star. He seemed pleased with himself. Without warning I rose to my feet and went and stood behind him as he was speaking to a groupie. I glanced back at my wife and she had the same worried look on her face as the day I proposed to her. I gave her a wink and she started shoving dinner rolls in her purse in case we were turfed before the taters.

“Hi Mr. MacKay, my name is Brett Batten and I’m an advocate. I don’t know if you’ve ever met anyone who has lived in solitary confinement but I have spent some time there.” “In fact I have” was his response. I wondered if they too were wearing a suit and tie at the time but my immediate thought was to recall ‘Bobby the Bullshitter’ who lived around the corner when I was seven. “We’re going to Disneyland.” “I’ve been to Disneyland twelve times.” I detoured the exasperation and mentioned that I would like to discuss the issue of solitary confinement with him sometime.

“Well, that’s the portfolio of Public Safety and my portfolio is Justice.” I wasn’t sure who thought who was stupid. “I understand that but as the Attorney General you have made statements regarding solitary confinement which are misleading.” “I don’t believe I have, what did I say?” I looked around for a second as I thought we were suddenly in the House of Commons. “You said Administrative Segregation was not similar to solitary confinement in other countries.” “Well, solitary confinement in Sarajevo is different from what we find in Canada.” “Well, we are not talking about dirt floors but the dimensions and more are quite the same sir. The United Nations defines solitary confinement as any incarceration that confines a person to a cell for 22 hours a day or more without human contact.” “Well I don’t always agree with the United Nations.” (Especially when it contradicts ‘the agenda’.) “Solitary confinement is used for sex offenders to ensure their safety.” “It is predominantly used for individuals with mental illness; it is a default response to a health issue.” For someone who didn’t say anything about solitary confinement Peter seemed to hit on all the points he made in his official statement.

I decided to give him the benefit of my doubt and asked who I could speak to about the issue. “You can talk to me” and he handed me his business card asking for mine. “Where are you from?” “London!” “I’m going to be in London in a week or two, maybe we can meet.”

“I was found Not Criminally Responsible and was the individual Champion of Mental Health here last year. Pretty much in that order.” He looked surprised and at the time I wasn’t sure at which. Maybe for a minute he thought ‘Wow, I could have actually spoken to someone found Not Criminally Responsible before I shoved the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act through Parliament.’ Nothing may come of this but at least Peter MacKay can say he shook the hand of someone found Not Criminally Responsible. Good on him!

It all sounds hopeful with him coming to London for Tea and Crumpets but like the rest of the electorate I expect his political promise to be broken. It was a formal event and I’m sure he was trying to appease me but I did drive all night to get home and vacuum in case he visits. He has my business card so I hope he enjoys my Blog.

As a public service Peter MacKay’s phone number is (613) 992-4621. Just tell him Brett gave you his number.

P.S. Please don’t call me at home, I’m expecting an important call.

Ignoring inflation it cost $550 000 dollars to deal with my mental illness institutionally.

I read an article in the London Free Press regarding policing and mental health. In a survey Londoners were asked :

“What do you think is the most important crime-related or policing problem facing the community and London police?”

Mental illness replaced downtown safety/bar issues in the top five. Why do Londoners believe that mental health is a police concern? If physical health is not a police concern why is mental health? If diabetics deserve doctors from start to finish why wouldn’t people with mental illness? If we are ever going to view mental illness differently we need to insist on medical interventions rather than law enforcement interventions. Part of the problem is the widespread perception that mental illness is synonymous with dangerousness.

Less than 3% of violence is attributable to mental illness in the absence of substance abuse. If ever we notice someone we suspect as hearing voices or disoriented in their thoughts or actions or somewhat delusional we might cross the street. The truth is that on both sides of the street 97% of our vulnerability to violence comes from the people who have no mental illness. People with mental illness are more often the victims of crime than the perpetrator.

When we allow law enforcement to administer to a health concern it is little wonder that the health concern becomes stigmatized, related to crime and associated with violence. If the police escorted diabetics to the hospital we would all have similar impressions about diabetes. Consider what we visualize, assume, think, feel and understand about mental illness. Now imagine having similar perceptions for a cancer patient. It would be unfair to the diabetic person or the individual with cancer but for the mentally ill it is as it would be for others with other illnesses; a barrier to treatment and a difficulty of rehabilitation.

Five years of my life have been spent under 24 hour care 7 days a week in an institution. Ignoring inflation it cost $550 000 dollars to deal with my mental illness institutionally. If a tenth of that money was used for comprehensive treatment in my youth, I might not be writing this.

A mental health clinician paid $60 000 dollars per year could have treated me for one hour a day for 70 years.
If we continue to fund and access policing and correctional measures to deal with mental illness we will forever feed the wrong end of the cow.

We do not fight cancer by building more cemeteries.(King)

When I first started living in the community after the forensic hospital I saw a psychologist once a week, a specialized therapist once a week and my psychiatrist at least once a month. Those supports were needed initially and they would have been expensive but it was nowhere near the near $350 dollars a day it cost to keep me in an institution. People can be monitored and treated in their own homes.

I could simply say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure but people might miss the point.

We leave mental illness unanswered and instead we deliver services mainly in times of crisis. Figure out the cost of an ambulance, two police officers and a truck or two of firefighters to respond to a suicide call and with any luck deliver that person to an emergency room and possibly a psychiatric unit for an indefinite period.

Now figure out how much it would cost for a therapist to prevent it in the first place.

If the financial realization is not enough for you consider letting heart disease progress to the point where invasive measures were necessary. With every other illness we prescribe the greatest amount of medicine at the beginning because to let any illness worsen is more devastating, difficult and expensive to treat. The social costs are immeasurable.

If you were ask a child how she feels about her father finding the best treatment for his heart she would likely answer the same for helping her father with schizophrenia. The best medicine at the beginning is not rocket science.

We are stupid to continue as we do but we are wrong and inhumane to do nothing.

Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Mental Health Strategy, Ect.

I don’t often advocate for the police. They have unions and each other so I don’t view them as disadvantaged or marginalized. They are not on my radar so to speak 🙂 I usually defend those who are unable to stand up for themselves or who do not have the opportunities and advantages that I do.

In my recent encounter with Ontario Provincial Police officers I have softened and expanded some of my views. Few of us have the honour or opportunity to share a meal with the police and their humanity is nourishment itself. I don’t want to disappoint those who find me a refreshing prick with a pen but I have a few points for us all to consider.

Most people do not know that since I was a child, I dreamed of being employed in law enforcement. I know of few better examples of irony. I also have several friends from my youth who are police officers. I can name at least seven who I played high school football with. I am fairly outspoken regarding tragedies that involve mental health but do not think I would not be as upset to hear of an officer falling in the line of duty.

Many of us have an uninformed sense of what the police are like. They are the brutes who give us speeding tickets. I agree that it is an annoying pastime of theirs but they are attempting to keep their families safe as well as yours. We do not blame the baker for making us fat.

Like everyone I am influenced by the media. With the media preoccupation with the sensational we are force fed and filled with any and many officer mistakes. To make an analogy it is no different than hearing that the Toronto Maple Leafs have actually won a game and concluding that they are having a great season.

I tried digging up some real numbers to provide some perspective and fairness. There are over 26 thousand police officers in Ontario. The few we hear about as having fallen short in their duties would be statistically minute and invisible on almost any graph.

I was aware that police officers are trained and informed that a person with a knife can be lethal at a range of 15 to 20 feet. I might be spatially disabled under such conditions. Officers are trained to use lethal force in these instances. I will still argue that a greater distance should be maintained where possible and appropriate but it is comprehensible that such situations do not always work out. I would imagine that any officer who had to make a lethal decision would be haunted by such and it is understandable why officers also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I have argued against the use of Tasers on mentally ill individuals as they are often disabled and it is a health condition. We need to guard against Tasers being used too often but in speaking with an officer I see their value. An individual with a knife who charges at a distance of 20 feet will still reach the officer even when shot with a gun. This is a no win situation. The Taser if successful will stop that same individual in their tracks. I would rather have to deal with psychological and temporary agony than find myself and or someone trying to help me in a coffin. I have a family as do they. The consequences of the lethal use of a firearm are far reaching.

We can point out that 92% of officer fatalities are committed with a firearm or that police homicides occur 23% of the time involving robberies and 3% occur apprehending psychiatric patients but I’m not sure those numbers would make me feel better if I was faced with a knife and I am unlikely to call on statistics or probabilities when I see that knife waved in my proximity. Any weapon is problematic.

I could only find numbers from Vancouver but they may still be relevant. One third of all police calls involve people with mental health issues. Let’s assume that the Ontario Provincial Police are dealing with similar numbers. I think the police have been put in a place and are being called on to remedy issues that are not theirs to own. Mental health is increasingly involving agencies that were never meant to be mental health service providers; police and corrections.

We can scream and shout at them both but the solution doesn’t entirely lay with altering what they do. We need a number other than 911 to call and we need to prevent and protect individuals from entering the justice system as a result of their addictions and mental health issues. Thirty percent of individuals come into contact with the police in their first experience trying to access mental health care. We don’t change the diaper when an infant needs to be burped.

There are agencies better suited to serve the mental health needs of Ontarians. These organizations and agencies need to be better coordinated, better funded and more accessible. To keep things as they are is monumentally more expensive fiscally and socially. We will have less need to call 911 if mental health care can be obtained prior to crisis. The police will always have a place and we need to be grateful for that. It is an unenviable position and a difficult duty. It is unfair to the police and Ontarians to make police an automatic selection for mental health issues.

I am showing my support to the Ontario Provincial Police not because I now know several more outstanding officers but because I deeply desire better outcomes for Ontarians. I will still point out problems and they may be the target of my often sharp and ill timed sense of humour but in the case of the Ontario Provincial Police and specifically the Elgin County Detachment I see compassion, promise and an active engagement in improving the mental health outcomes of Ontarians. Is the Ontario Provincial Police Mental Health Strategy perfect? Possibly not but I am inspired and I believe community stakeholders can co-operate and implement something of an improvement.

The quarterback doesn’t throw the ball because he is incompetent or incapable of making headway; he knows the receiver stands the best chance of the most advancement. Community stakeholders are the wide receivers. We have been calling the police for help with mental health matters for decades. Community stakeholders are now being called on. I believe they can handle the pass.

We Can Find A Limp In Anyone But Especially When We Use Our Own Gait As A Measure

I was checking out Twitter and clicked on a link to:

“6 Things That I Have Noticed About People Who Change and Recover From Mental Illness.”

I was excited by the prospect of change and recovery. After I battled with the Pop-Up screens where Barry Pearman was flogging his free book, the wind was knocked out of me. Barry’s first life changing “great stride” was:

1) They make their bed every morning.

Just before I was about to flush my anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and anti-depressants down the toilet I thought about it for a minute. I started to wonder how many individuals Barry Pearman has seen change and recover. My next question was what the hell is Barry doing in all these bedrooms? Is he a sleuth or a slut?

According to Barry I shouldn’t “drift into the day” but like the Navy Seals who are renowned therapists in his world, I should start my day with “a drilled in positive habit.” I have had suicidal months and been immobilized by depression. It was not a matter of preferring to stay in bed; I in fact could barely get out. Had I owned a bedpan I would have used it. I have also been psychotic and my bed was as likely to have been a magic carpet as anything I would tidy and tuck.

Dear Barry,

If you are going to speak about mental illness please consider the vast array of degrees and diagnoses. What you consider positive may be worlds away from what I value or consider positive. I don’t make my bed for the same reason I do not do the zippers up on my pants when I fold and put them in the drawer. It is to me slightly illogical, a waste of my time and a pointless make work project. When I do not pull my sheets up and tuck them in each morning it enables me to refrain from pulling them back out each evening. You say illness I say efficiency.

I’m sure you’re sure I am destined to a state of illness but I personally look back at my life and see that I have “changed” my mental illness and I have enjoyed prolonged periods of recovery. Obviously this has nothing to do with making my bed.

I am as illiterate as you but in my estimation recovery is not always a destination. Further, it is my belief that recovery is a highly personalized process that can be different for each of us. I can look at another person with mental illness and “should” on them but their habits and efficacies can still qualify them as recovering or recovered. Some individuals with or without mental illness are comfortable to leave mustard on their shirts. We can find a limp in anyone but especially when we use our own gait as a measure. If any measure is to be used it must originate mainly in the individual. If an individual with or without mental illness is able to find meaning and arrive at whatever points of personal satisfaction they set out for themselves they are in no small way thriving. Is it “change” or recovery? I cannot answer that and neither “should” you.

Kind regards,
Brett

Since my neck was not in a noose (though he had no way of knowing) he didn’t know who to call or what to do.

Some names have been changed or omitted to protect the idiotic.

As some of my readers will be aware I was not in a good place mentally last week. One of the individuals who reached out to me asked around for some assistance for me. I ended up with a number to a local agency who provides a Crisis Response Line. I am feeling somewhat better and it is counterintuitive for me to reach out as assistance has not always been so.

I called the Crisis Line and ended up speaking to Barney. I explained my recent difficulties and was inquiring about what services I could access. I wasn’t crying which seemed to confuse Barney. I asked if he was a counselor and he explained he had some training but was not a counselor. He searched for some numbers and suggested next time I should call the Distress Line. “Oh, so who would I end up speaking with if I called the Distress Line?” ”ME” was his answer. What the hell? I wanted to reach out and shake his head for him. Firstly, when I am unwell I might not have the insight into whether I am in crisis or distress. They are literally and figuratively the same damn area code. Further, what is logical or logistical to his mandate and procedures are irrelevant to someone in crisis or distress. I would never tell Barney what to do but I would recommend suggesting the value in reaching out rather than suggesting what he values.

I told Barney some of my story and he could have easily engaged me. He was given several paragraphs to build a conversation. I was silent a few times which were long and awkward and I could sense Barney’s discomfort. The only input he made into the conversation was to inform me “we are here to listen not make you feel better.” What the hell? They might as well use an answering machine if all they do is listen. Wouldn’t a few well placed questions uncover the extent of my crisis or distress?

This gentleman knew and found out nothing about me including my name. What supports do you presently have? Do you have a family physician? Are you able to access services? Do you live alone? Are you in a safe environment? Have you ever been suicidal? Are you able to care for yourself? Are you on any medications? Are you having any disturbances of thought? Are you experiencing hallucinations?

If we are going to train these individuals to refrain from attempting to alleviate difficulties or offer advice we should definitely train them not to make assumptions about the degree of crisis or distress an individual may or may not be experiencing. The consequences could be tragic. I was safe and possibly he interpreted me as healthy. I can baffle you with brilliance in full blown psychosis. People don’t call these numbers to order ice cream. I realize he was not a professional which is a problem in itself. There are often not answers or solutions but being an ear doesn’t do much good when I need a comforting voice.

Barney was uncomfortable that I was waiting for him to speak as I believe that was his training. I can tell when someone is directing me to end a conversation and I believe that since my neck was not in a noose (though he had no way of knowing) he didn’t know who to call or what to do. What is your phone number? I will pass on your contact information to a colleague who is aware of community supports.

Barney was mainly giving me information about support groups which I have an aversion to. My mental health is private and some of the things I struggle with are best not spit out in a circle of chairs. Some of these groups are simply the blind leading the blind. I don’t need Darlene’s insight; she’s a damn basket case though I’m sure she knows what is good for me.

I almost feel like jumping off a bridge but I’m going to hunt down Barney first to time the fall. I am not personally upset but I am seriously alarmed for my community. If I call 911 for a physical crisis they do not say “were here to listen until the ambulance arrives.” After determining the severity of the situation they offer immediate and useful first aid information where appropriate. Further, highly trained individuals follow up on the call.

I understand budget constraints. I believe in the value of peer support and volunteers make the world go round but Barney might not be the best person for someone in crisis or distress. My first impression of him is that he probably has difficulty in a drive-through. We would be alarmed if any or even initial acute contact regarding physical health was taking place under the direction of volunteers with a crash course in health care. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Catherine Zeta Jones

An anti-stigma campaign I follow on Twitter sent me a message that “Actress Catherine Zeta Jones has been living with bipolar for several years and rejects any stigma attached to it.” Easy for her to say. It was further Tweeted that Catherine Zeta Jones says there is “no shame in seeking help.” For someone with fame and finances this might even be true.

For Catherine Zeta Jones, mental health stigma and treatment are vastly different from the experiences of many who also suffer from mental illness. For her being open about her diagnosis and experiences is at least unintentional personal publicity. As they say: There is no such thing as bad press. In the case of celebrities a personal persona and public appetite is created and nourished by being a news story. It would appear that Catherine Zeta Jones has thrown herself in front of an oncoming car for the benefit of many but I would argue that the car has already driven by. The lack of blood and guts, spell evidence.

Catherine Zeta Jones is portrayed as some patron saint of bipolar but what has she really risked? Stigma is at a point that it is rarely rolled out for the famous. I am not inferring that there is no such thing as stigma but little if any cuts through fame and favour. Call me cynical but these revelations don’t seem to affect these individuals beyond increasing their brand, public persona and popularity.

If I’m depressed in bed or manic at the mall, am I apt to seek help or find relief in Catherine’s revelations? The rubberneckers look but the rest of us are too busy trying to survive. These celebrities don’t give interviews in their underwear next to dust bunnies; they follow a loose script in their personal libraries in Bermuda. Speaking of which, what meds do I take to find myself in Bermuda with a maid?

I think “Catherine The Great” has been a source of conversation around mental illness but I would argue that her battle with stigma is similar to Don Quixote who mistakes windmills for giants and charges at full speed. My suspicion is that stigma is a word, for Catherine Zeta Jones. For many stigma is no windmill but a true giant. It affects self image, personal and family relationships, employment and status.

When I think about bipolar I don’t envision a person like Catherine Zeta Jones who uses overpriced shoes for bookends because they’re too cute for closets. In my world people with bipolar have their shoes taken away so they can’t asphyxiate themselves with the laces.

I imagine Catherine’s experience with mental illness has been challenging and difficult but in the scheme of things we are talking about First World problems in comparison to Third World problems. Did she have to wait six months to see a psychiatrist? Were the chairs in the waiting room plastic or leather? Did she have to wonder if she could afford her medication? Was she worried about missing work? Did she have to resort to disability assistance to feed herself?

I’m waiting for one of these famous sacrificial lambs to tell us about their hemorrhoids. That experience is the same for us all and if I knew Catherine Zeta Jones used “Preparation H” I could actually hold my head higher at the pharmacy. There’s little fame in swelling so I shall suffer in silence.

“It is a kind of cold and uncaring environment”

A 30 year old father has died at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre. On the surface it seems no correctional officer or administrator can be faulted because it was a suicide and because this particular inmate did not voice an intention or thoughts about suicide. Corrections sidestep the corpse and deny responsibility because protocol was followed. What if protocol in fact hastens or facilitates the death? Following the rules in this case could be considered the smoking gun.

According to London Lawyer Kevin Egan, who represents hundreds of London inmates “It is a kind of cold and uncaring environment.” I hope Kevin Egan didn’t have to research too many legal documents to come up with the understatement of the century.

Inmates are screened at admission about their mental health and suicidality. “Do you feel suicidal?” if answered in the affirmative will bring about a second strip search and the inmate is placed in solitary confinement or for those who like to justify its use, segregation. The inmate is given a tear proof gown and blanket to go with their toilet and 24 hour light.

For any inmate who is familiar with this system of sadism there is only one answer to the question. “No.” Inmates in solitary confinement because of suicidal ideation or behavior are checked on every 10 minutes. Interestingly, it takes about 5 minutes to die. In the case of this young man because he was segregated but not on suicide watch he would have only been checked every 20 minutes in comparison to the usual 30 minutes in the general population. This deviation points to the admission that solitary confinement creates a dangerous situation that needs increased supervision.

I realize Elgin-Middlesex Detention Center is understaffed and poorly designed but is it not possible for “cold and uncaring” correctional staff to ask an inmate if they are suicidal after intake? Surely, while under the arguably tortuous conditions of solitary confinement an inmate could be spoken to and asked if they are suicidal. Would any institution grind to a hault if such a protocol was implemented? It would require conscience and a degree of compassion but it may save a life.

To be placed in solitary confinement deteriorates mental wellness and exacerbates mental illness. This is where it becomes difficult for guards, administrators and healthcare staff to sidestep culpability. This particular inmate was taking prescribed psychiatric medication and was placed in an environment where whatever mental wellness he possessed was compromised. His mental health was compromised by the correctional system which did little proactive to prevent his eventual death.

There have been 16 coroner inquests into jail suicides since 2007 and the recommendations of better screening and monitoring of inmates has been ignored. This is not only a dereliction of duty but it is outwardly reckless and a foundation for legal culpability.