When a person living with a mental illness reaches the point of hospitalization, those who care sigh a breath of relief.
“Thank goodness,” we say to ourselves, “our loved one is in good hands.”
And that is true. The mental health professionals both inside and outside the hospital setting do their jobs well and ensure that within the structure of our health care system the most vulnerable and unwell receive the attention they need.
But once outside the institutional system, mental health patients fall off a cliff and enter a revolving door of inside-outside. Allow me to give you an example, from personal experience.
Someone I care about deeply lives with bipolar disorder, a devastating illness that requires constant monitoring and assertive treatment.
Hospitalization has been a frequent feature of this person’s life, but beds on the psychiatric unit are scarce. Six beds serve the whole of the Sunshine Coast. So, when acute medical needs were deemed to have been addressed, this loved one was let out – without a formal discharge plan or follow-up.
The inevitable happened.
Still unwell with her mood cycling dramatically, and with new medications not yet having their effect (psychiatric meds typically take weeks to work), my friend entered the twilight zone between care and chaos.
Homeless, because her landlord did not want her around, and without social support because her behaviour estranged her friends, this incredibly bright and caring woman fell into life on the streets, bush, beaches, and dark alleyways of Sechelt.
In through the out door.
Predictably, after causing a rumpus, she was arrested and again taken to hospital. Released again, she is back on the street – unwell, and vulnerable to the predations of (mainly) men with unfriendly intentions. It’s only a matter of time when the revolving door will once again deliver her into care, eventual release, and back into the cycle.
One does not have to read this sad story all that closely to realize that there is a large and perilous gap between structured, acute care and outpatient well being.
Vancouver Coastal Health funds mental health services. As few as eight years ago, there were several mental health social/outreach workers who attended to the needs of recently discharged patients. Now, I think there is one for the entire Sunshine Coast, though I hear this may change for the better.
Until a few years ago, the Homelessness Project (modestly funded) connected with patients while in hospital to help them find stable housing upon discharge. Yes, the organization that now runs the Upper Deck homeless shelter has, in its remit, the task of finding homes for the homeless. It is a daunting task, as there is no affordable housing on the Coast.
As a caring community, we must do what we can to address the bottom, most fundamental level of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs, which is safe and stable shelter and the basic elements of comfort.
Perhaps you have a spare bedroom you can let out to a person in need. I did, and I did.
If there is anything you can do to help bridge the gap between care and nothingness, then drop by the Arrowhead Clubhouse in Sechelt and talk with staff. Shelter. Clothing. Camping equipment for folks living rough. Anything.
Caring for those in need is our moral imperative.
Note: This regular column on mental health and social issues will appear 11 May at www.coastreporter.net