Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
You don’t know me. But, I’ve been writing this blog for quite a while. Mental illness is a topic that comes up quite a bit. It’s something that’s very close to my heart.
Every Canadian knows someone that is either living with a mental illness, or has been impacted by it. And yet still, we as a country are falling behind in the treatment of individuals living with these illnesses.
Sure, once or twice a year we see the feel good campaign of a telecommunications giant trot out their hashtag and celebrities and have everyone tweet for mental health. And while I do think awareness is important — and please, do forgive my sardonic sense of humour — it’s not what we need right now.
What we need right now is action.
Recently, a 20-year-old young woman named Hailey Baker lost her battle with mental illness. You did not know her Mr. Prime Minister, and quite frankly, neither did I. But I knew her struggles.
You see, she tried to get help. She told mental health professionals she wasn’t well, that she didn’t want to be released from treatment because she “wasn’t ready”.
A story, I’m sad to say, I’ve heard all too often.
On September 6th of this year, Hailey ended her own life.
The troubling thing about it all, Mr. Prime Minister, is that we all know a Hailey.
I’m sure in your lifetime you’ve lost loved ones to mental illness. People that you cared about.
We’re sad when it happens, aren’t we? We talk about what wonderful people they are, don’t we?
But you know what we don’t do, sir?
We don’t act.
During the last few elections mental illness has become something of a buzz phrase. Politicians know that it’s important to Canadians, and so they march it out and talk about how we need to start taking things seriously.
But it’s all just gripping and grinning, Mr. Prime Minister — bread and circuses.
Just this past year I began the steps towards treatment for PTSD. I’ve never been to war, sir. At least, not on a battlefield. But, as a child I experienced incredible instances of bullying on every front. I was trapped in a life that was incredibly troubling and unsafe. And that feeling of not being safe stuck with me throughout my adolescence and into my adult life — that combined with the traumatic and sudden loss of a sibling — it’s impacted every inch of me.
I use the phrasing “began the steps towards treatment” very deliberately, sir. I use it because in order for me to officially be diagnosed with PTSD I would have to be followed by a psychiatrist for a period of time.
The waitlist for a psychiatrist in Newfoundland and Labrador (the place where I began those steps towards treatment) is between 2-3 years.
That’s 2-3 years before I can begin the process of diagnoses. Despite the fact that every mental health professional I spoke to said, “yup, it’s PTSD alright.”
Combine the fact that the Newfoundland and Labrador government just cut close to $2m in mental health and addictions services — and well, there’s not a lot of help to go around.
Recently, I’ve moved to Nova Scotia, and it’s no better here — people are waiting for years to just be diagnosed.
Sir, that’s not taking mental health seriously.
It isn’t just falling behind on the provincial level though.
The other day I had a chance to speak with a researcher who is studying the genetic and environmental links associated in mental illness between parents and children.
The hope is that if mental illness is caught early enough, then early treatment can help young people live a fairly healthy and productive life in spite of their illness.
The study ran into trouble, however, when their federal funding was cut by 40%.
That’s just unacceptable.
It’s time this country stopped the photo ops and rhetoric associated with slick advertising campaigns and started doing something tangible and real.
I’m sure that I wouldn’t have to look very hard to find a hundred Hailey’s across this country. And that fact is astounding to me. And it should be bloody well astounding to you, too, Sir.
Whenever there’s a disaster in this country we come together at all levels of government and help those that need it.
Sir, mental illness is a disaster. There may not be smoke, or fire, or floods — but there are very real consequences to ignoring this problem.
I ask you, sir, as somebody who has lived with mental illness for most of my life — please… please help?
We need to motivate and coordinate all levels of government in order to make real change happen. Research needs funding, professionals need training, services need to be readily available, drug plans need to be introduced — being mentally ill isn’t cheap.
These actions need to come from the top down. It needs the might of a nation.
This issue needs to be more than just a photo op, sir. It needs to be handled.
Will you be the one to do it? Or, will you, like your predecessors, just leave it for the next politician.
How many more Hailey Baker’s will there be before somebody finally does something? Or are we content to sit idly by and watch victim after victim succumb to these illnesses?
As a country, I know we’re better than that.
As a leader, I know you are better than that.
Please, let us set an example for the rest of the world.
Let’s make real change, not just speaking points and Twitter posts.
I hope this manages to find its way to you. If it does, and you wish to talk about any of the things I’ve brought up in this letter, sir. Feel free to reach out to me through this blog. I would love the opportunity to talk.