Food for thought

The Winnipeg Free Press has an interesting article on concerns about the media portrayal of Vince Li being given the privilege of supervised visits into Selkirk. In a horrific act, Li killed Tim McLean on a Greyhound Bus in Manitoba in 2008. He was later found not criminally responsible for his actions due to his untreated schizophrenia. I’ll save the sensationalized details for Wikipedia.

One quote of note from the Free Press Article.

“It really does worry me that we’re moving the whole mental-health issue back 20 years,” Nicole Shammartin, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg, said in an interview.

I remember discussing this with my fellow students in my second year analysis course when it happened. It was hard to talk about this then. It’s hard to talk about this now. The acts committed by Li were, well, no words can properly express my revulsion.

The fact that I feel the need to state the obvious says a lot about the conversation in this country about mental illness and why we desperately need to change it. The problem, at least as I see it, is that this tragedy defines the face of schizophrenia in our culture. And yes, I have to be honest, there are horrific tragedies with this illness. I am FULLY aware of how badly my illness could go. It haunts me, as much as my nightmares about my fall.

But I also have to be very frank and state a truth that should be obvious, but is sadly missing from our public discourse. That tragedy is only a small part of the story. There are 300,000 schizophrenics in this country. One in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their life time. Vince Li is only one out of a very large number of Canadians. Our stories, in which we struggle against nearly impossible odds to live “normal” lives, to work, to go to school, to raise a family are all too often lost in such sensationalism.

Even worse, the stigma the mentally ill face is made all the more worse by society’s inability to have a serious conversation about mental illness. I have no history of violence and have been very successful in dealing with my illness. Yet even I found it difficult to remind people that yes, I too am a schizophrenic when my classmates were condemning Li.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that because of such stigma, many people don’t want to get help. We don’t talk about it. In my case I had no idea my family had a history of mental illness on both my mother’s side and my father’s side until YEARS after my diagnosis. I don’t blame my family because they did what most families did in such cases and not talk about it. A question I cannot answer is if that shame hadn’t existed, could I have gotten help sooner? Could the signs have been recognized before I had a breakdown?

Maybe, maybe not. One can never be certain with “what ifs?” and one has to always remember that sometimes even with the best efforts, tragedy cannot be avoided. I am quite certain though that the shame does not help anyone.

I do believe that this is an opportunity to change the conversation. I am a schizophrenic. My story is not about tragedy but about hope.

That, along with countless other stories, is something worth remembering.

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About Neil

I happen to have paranoid schizophrenia. But that is only a small part of who I am. I define me, not my illness. I always try and choose hope and choose to be a better person, though like all people, I have more than a few failures. Some have been rather spectacular.
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One Response to Food for thought

  1. Pingback: An “Excuse” | Perspectives on Living with a Mental Illness

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