Mental Health Crisis?: By Karen Ward

The Mayor’s problematic five-fold solution:

  1. Increase Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams;
  2. Increase supports at BC Housing;
  3. Enhance urgent care at the hospital;
  4. Pair the VPD with mental health workers; and
  5. Create 300 long-term and “secure” mental health beds.

The box above shows the five points presented in the mayor’s roundtable. I think there were about a hundred people there, and probably four or five of us who actually live with mental illness or an addiction were there – at a presentation of a plan that will affect our lives so much. Again, we’re treated as ‘sick’, and voiceless, and not rational enough (that is, batshit crazy) to know how to conduct our lives. So there we go, shut the fuck up and take your pills.

The Downtown Eastside is the only place I have found where you’re treated with decency and respect when you’re upfront about your illness. Politicians and doctors will never understand this. They have a lot of privilege and think they know the best way to live a life, and anything else is just wrong.

In the hood, I hang at Gallery Gachet, which is run by a collective of artists who operate around the idea that social justice and mental illness are linked, and our vision is to improve the lives of people with mental illness everywhere. It’s peer-run, so we take care of each other and no one is the boss. Our motto is in a phrase said by Yoko Ono: “Art is a means of survival.” You bet your ass it can be. So are our relationships with each other.

I think that’s the sort of thing we need to think about in the DTES now. I think about what the Mayor and the cops and the doctors want and how they want to control our lives, and I think we need to get together and share our stories, recognize our common ground and speak back against politicians and cops who have decided to control our lives. Our lives are ours.

What the powers-that-be want is not ‘healing’ or meaningful ‘support’, they want to remove us from public life – because we’re different and that threatens their boring and stupid upper-class lives, and we  remind the normals that there are other ways to live. We break the window in the building of the normal. The things I see and the things I hear tell me about the secret world that is possible when we claim our basic rights, and become the masters of the asylum we build ourselves. That’s why they want us gone. Out of sight, out of their minds, and in a locked-down hospital, all out of our minds and away from our friends and places and all the things that help us to live. It’s time to talk about mental diversity: there’s more than one way to think, and you don’t get to judge them. Minds are as unique and wonderful (and wonder filled) as fingerprints and noses and bodies and hearts.

More teams that come to your house to make sure you take your meds, violating your privacy and the right to choose. More involuntary commitment and police brutality. All this means no freedom.

We have rights, and freedom, real freedom is one we must fight for. It doesn’t matter if we’re ill or addicted, we have the right to live our own lives without being controlled. We have the right to make our own crazy-ass choices and live our crazy lives. We are the crazy ones and we are the heros of humanity, because we know the truth. We are mental warriors and we don’t have to take this shit. It’s the world and this situation that is fucked and crazy, and we’re the crazy ones, because we know that’s true.

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