Letters to The Province: Thursday, April 4, 2024

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My family has been involved in the mental health system for about 11 years due to my son’s schizophrenia. We have learned a lot about what is necessary to provide quality of life for someone living with a serious mental illness.

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It is my understanding that when parts of Riverview Hospital were closed, the government gradually switched to home and community care. The Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams were formed around this time and meet people where they are, whether they live at home or on their own, to provide care.

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The B.C. Psychosis Program at UBC Hospital has 25 beds for the entire province. They specialize in treating psychosis. My son spent several months at B.C. Psychosis, after which we had our son back. He was released with a referral to an ACT team. After some years, my son started dabbling in substances and the ACT team has been a big part of our life for some time.

Recently, my son became addicted to cocaine. When he asked his ACT team for help with addiction, he was told the wait time for treatment was 10 months. He continued to deteriorate over this time and died by suicide on Feb. 16 of this year.

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We were a poster family for how this community treatment is supposed to work because my son had strong family support during all of this and the ACT team was available when we needed them. He had home visits from his psychiatrist, mental health workers and, in the last little bit, addiction workers.

It has become clear to us that if you have both a serious mental illness and addiction, the only place that will take you is Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction in Coquitlam. You can go voluntarily, but the wait time cost my son his life. It is also my understanding that the only way you can be admitted involuntarily is when you are a danger to others. Suicidal thinking is a danger, but only to yourself, so he did not qualify.

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The change I want is for people to able to access these services in a shorter time. It would help so many people on the streets who may not realize there is a way out — a way to quality of life so that they can enjoy things. And maybe get back to music or work or volunteering, or just hanging out in a healthy way — instead of all the violence and crime that I believe comes from untreated mental illness. How can you get treatment when you are told you have to wait that long?

Please approach your local MLA’s office to advocate for the unwell. Write letters and make phone calls to the people in power. Things need to change for the better. My story is too common and I believe happens to loved ones every day. We miss my son every day and this needless heartbreak needs to stop now.

Sue Pazder, Sidney 

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reference: theprovince.com

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