Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Voices of the Oppressed - 3

How's my mental health today?

That is a question that I've had to consider frequently over the past 21+ years.

But my attention was not only on myself. Over those years I became increasingly aware of the plight of most people with psychiatric disabilities; not just today, but also historically.

Consider this statement:

In no other field, except perhaps leprosy, has there been as much confusion, misdirection and discrimination against the patient, as in mental illness… Down through the ages, they have been estranged by society and cast out to wander in the wilderness. Mental illness, even today, is all too often considered a crime to be punished, a sin to be expiated, a possessing demon to be exorcised, a disgrace to be
hushed up, a personality weakness to be deplored or a welfare problem to be handled as cheaply as possible.

This statement is quoted from Out of the Shadows at Last, Final Mental Health Study Report of the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, May 2006 (link)

In October 2004 The Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology was authorized by the Canadian Senate to investigate issues surrounding mental illness and mental health in Canada. The Committee spent more than a year traveling coast to coast gathering information, and listening to stories of people with psychiatric disorders, their family members and other stakeholders. In May 2006 they published their findings and recommendations.

The quote above, part of the foreword in the Senate Committee report, was taken from the 1963 Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Study Report, More for the Mind. It was included in the Committee report because the Senators involved in the investigation discovered that almost nothing had changed in the 40 years since the CMHA had done their study.

The Senators were impacted by the stories they heard and included some of them in their report. There are so many stories that I could spend weeks, perhaps months relating some of those stories; the Voices of more of the Oppressed. I won't do that but if you're interested in the stories, click on the link above.

The stories, the voices of the oppressed, were given a chance to be heard. The hope was that this study by the Senate Committee would lead to changes, changes for the better. People were crying out for their dignity, for the opportunity to be equitable participants in our country, our society, our community.

A friend, Roy Muise, that I met through our involvement in the National Network for Mental Health and the Canadian Alliance for Alternative Mental Health Resources, expressed this desire so very eloquently. His statement below, became part of the opening words of the Senate Committee Report.

To the people of Canada, I say welcome us into society as full partners.  We are not to be feared or pitied.  Remember, we are your mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, your friends, co-workers and children.  Join hands with us and travel together with us on our road to recovery.  --- Roy Muise - 9 May 2005 - Halifax. Nova Scotia

The report resulted in the establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada which has initiated a few pilot programs in its attempt to develop a national action plan on mental health.

The question remains; has anything changed? Voices were raised; risks were taken; will lasting positive change result from these efforts? How much longer will people with a mental health problem be subjected to stigmatization, inadequate services, second class citizenship, and social exclusion?

When will the voices of the oppressed ever be the catalyst for real, lasting change?

The history of an oppressed people 
is hidden in the lies and the agreed myth of its conquerors.
- Meridel Le Sueur

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