By Christina Blizzard, Queen’s Park Columnist
First posted: Monday, March 21, 2016
TORONTO – For all the hand-wringing we do about treating mental illness as just that a sickness, not a crime, you’d think we’d do better when we put actions to those words.
Barrie teen Shania Paige attempted “suicide by cop.” It’s only thanks to the quick-thinking police officer who responded that she’s alive today.
As reported in the Toronto Sun on Sunday, what happened to Paige, who suffers from bipolar disorder, makes a mockery of everything we talk about when it comes to mental health.
Paige ended up in jail when she needed treatment.
She was cut off from a suicide prevention hotline because she was using it too often. Her problem, it seems, is that she didn’t kill herself.
She got into a tussle over a bottle of hand sanitizer when she sought help at a local hospital and was tossed out by security guards. She ended up with a broken arm. She’s not allowed back in the hospital.
She ended up in court on assault charges and got three months in jail.
The judge praised the police officer for saving Paige’s life and had this to say:
“Unfortunately, our criminal justice system seems to be the repository for people with mental-health illnesses.”
Look, I understand it’s difficult helping people with serious mental illnesses but haven’t we seen this movie before? How many times do people who are schizophrenic or bipolar have to end up in court before we realize they need treatment, not punishment?
I asked Health Minister Eric Hoskins about Paige.
He said his government is trying but there’s more work to be done.
“What you highlighted in your article, that pressure point, that moment in time when an individual calls out in crisis, the resources that are put to bear, the resources that are first to interact with that person after their cry for help or a critical incident, that’s fundamentally so important,” he said.
Have we learned nothing from the Ashley Smith case, I asked?
“It’s potentially part of the same continuum,” Hoskins admitted. “I’m talking about hopefully avoiding that individual ending up in the criminal justice system in the first place, and I think that’s what we need to put our attention to.”
PC Leader Patrick Brown said he’s “shocked” at how the system failed Paige.
“I just feel the government has been so hypocritical on mental health.
“Here they are on Bell Let’s Talk Day, all tweeting, if you have mental health issues, have the courage to come forward” then there’s no treatment, he said.
Cutbacks have decimated mental health treatment centres and hospitals across the province. Drug addicts are forced to wait months for treatment. People suffering post-partum depression can’t get the care they need, Brown said.
“There’s a growing waitlist at every mental health facility in Ontario and they say they’re going to be spending money down the road.
“Promises are cheap and they’re easy to do. They’re not investing in mental health otherwise you wouldn’t be seeing double digit staff reductions at every single mental health facility.”
The hypocrisy is we encourage people to open up about mental illness then deny them care. Worse, we put them in jail.
Next time Bell Let’s Talk Day rolls around, I know what I’ll call the government’s efforts. I’ll call them platitudes.
I’ll call them lip service.
I’ll call them utterly and completely tragic.