I hear it again and again, not said aloud, but implied as they open their mouths to tell me their problems. “Not in my house. Not on my street. Not in my building. Not in my neighbourhood. Not on my bus.” It is the inference of those considered ‘normal’ in our society when they come in contact with one of ‘those.’ When we, anyone in our society, splits into the ‘thems, thoses and they’ it is based in some form of bias, separating from the whole of us, to me and I, but not them, those or they. The those, in reference in this story, are the many in our society that are mentally ill.

thumbnail_mental illness not criminal
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[I wrote this blog, weeks before the fateful day a young man, consumed within his mental paranoia, went along Danforth Ave in Toronto and shot numerous persons, killing two . I waited to post this, as the pain and sorrow of  mourning over this senseless atrocity swept over this city. Even now, I wonder, is it too soon? But the fact is, there are hundreds of thousands of persons with mental illness who walk among us every day. They all do not commit murders. Their voices needed to be heard. ]

Of course, I’m not talking about the multitudes of functioning mentally ill persons in our society, and yes they do exist. They are stabilized on medications, usually have a high level of family support and are often referred to as ‘high functioning.’ This means that even while having a mental illness, they capably contribute in society, appearing to function on a day-to-day bases somewhat ‘normally.’ These are often the invisible mentally ill persons, or those that ‘pass’ without being ‘found out.’ Their struggles are no less real, and can lead to incapacitation at times, but for today, they go unnoticed, unlabelled and unrecognized. Yes they are among us.

The intolerance I am talking about though, are concerning those that are off their medications, usually again. They are on street corners, signs held up asking for money. Some my be high on drugs, or looking for money for the next hit. Others might quietly be talking to themselves, as they respond to some internal chatter in their heads. Generally, their hygiene is lacking and they may appear homeless. Some may be delusional, hallucinating, unable to care for themselves, or even sometimes dangerous. These are all the people whom we get calls about. A well-intentioned neighbour, a loved one, a landlord or roommate or even a stranger. They all look to the police to do something, anything. But many of these calls, under the pretext of altruism in trying to help a suffering human being, are sometimes anything but that. More often than not, it is to just take them away and out of the space the ‘normal’ person feels is being invaded and causing them discomfort.

I spend a lot of time trying to explain and educate people about how being mentally ill isn’t again the law.  The police can’t just take away every human right and dignity from this person just because you are uncomfortable with them. The law is clear, under the Mental Health Act, the police may apprehend someone and take them to the hospital if they are unable to care for themselves or are at immediate danger of harming themselves or others. Immediate really means imminent, and that pretty well means someone who is actively suicidal or homicidal, or is so caught up in their inner world they have stopped eating and hydrating, for example.

We live in a city where we don’t get to pick our neighbours and where we run into all  kinds of people we have no control over. If you want something different, then buy a property with ten acres and a tall fence surrounding it and work from home. That is neither a luxury or reality for most of us. Tolerance is the way and should be extended to persons suffering from mental health illness as well.  People who would shudder to think themselves a racist or homophobic for example, would  never think of saying aloud, “Please take that person away cause their colour makes me feel uncomfortable.” Yet, these same persons, don’t hesitate to ask one of them to be removed from the bus, shelter, corner, lobby, store restaurant and etc. Our mentally ill persons are seen as  second class citizens in this society. And yes, I use that bus, shelter, corner, lobby,  store and restaurant too.

So, I’m just saying, check your biases and intolerances. It’s not okay. Being crazy isn’t a crime. However, discrimination towards a mentally ill person IS an offence.

;      #stopthestigma    #iwantyoutoknow


One thought on “From the Streets: Mental Illness is NOT a Crime.

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