Let’s Adjust Our Sails

I have a confession – I watch my neighbours. Not in the way Gladys Kravitz spied on Samantha and Darrin Stephens on Bewitched in the 1960s, calling out Abner! Abner! at Samantha’s nose-wiggling magic, but still. While living here, I have not heard my neighbours utter one positive comment, be it about the weather, the economy, the leaves, nothing. It is too hot. It is too cold. I hate the snow. That snowplow driver has no idea what he is doing. I never swim, I don’t like the water. I don’t like the rain. It is too dry. I don’t like bugs. No one likes bugs, but you get the drift.

When my daughters were little and started to complain, I asked them to tell me three positive things about their adventure before I was willing to listen to complaints. More often than not, they couldn’t remember what they wanted to complain about. We all whine and complain and doing so helps get our worries off our skin, out in the open to figure out what to do, but a steady diet of negativity isn’t good for anyone, least of all for the person doing the complaining and it got me thinking.

I was listening to a young woman speak on CBC Radio about her experience at “aging out” of the child welfare system. She no longer qualifies for care. She spent almost her entire childhood moving from foster home to foster home, both her parents deceased after a difficult and tumultuous life. She spoke eloquently about having survived what is not the existence we would wish for any child, but now she is on her own. One of her greatest losses at becoming an adult is the end of mental health support. She has to navigate life on her own, with no family to lean on, no professional guidance. I realized how little importance we place on the care of our mental health and providing affordable and available support for those in need, which includes many of us.

Health insurance recognizes that teeth should be cleaned twice a year, and bodies need physical therapy from time to time, yet many plans do not allow for mental health care and if they do, coverage can be limited. In most provinces, if you wish to seek mental health therapy under provincial health you are going to wait a very long time. I compare it to my daughter’s access to an insulin pump. The use of a pump dramatically reduces the medical intervention she will require as she ages. A single treatment of dialysis costs $13,634 (2014 Canadian Institute for Health Information). An insulin pump costs approximately $7,500 and the use of a pump eliminates dialysis for many patients in later years. Some, though not all, provinces cover the cost of a pump. You have to spend money to save money. It’s called having vision, using forward thinking. Mental health care definitely falls under the same heading.

We are so quick to judge bad behaviour in others, especially in young people. I’m not sure we stop to think what brought them to this place. It would be prudent for the health of our communities to help/guide children with their mental health. We quickly put a cast on a broken arm. We vaccinate for polio and tetanus and rubella and measles and mumps, but we disregard children who grow up in violent homes, in poverty, without healthy role models, without access to counselling. We expect the education system to solve just about every problem that children develop, from managing their emotions to how to handle money to sex education.

Childhood trauma is as common as skinned knees in segments of our society. Access to mental health care being normalized would be the first step, as essential as having food on the table. We cut and cut social programs from our government budgets and scratch our heads when juvenile homes/prisons fill, when the number living on the street grows. How we care for the most vulnerable in our communities is the measure of our humanity. As Jimmy Dean said, [We] can’t change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails to reach our destination.