Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Safety Net

My wife (who is also bipolar) has been off work for a year, and has had multiple hospitalizations while doctors work on finding the right combination of meds and therapy (she is getting better and better). I have been off work for two months while doctors try to find the right combination of meds and therapy for me.

The scary part is the slim chance that when you are mentally ill that you will never be able to work again. Then, your only option is to apply for disability.

We both have started the paperwork, just in case. That sucks. I don’t even want to look at the stack of forms. Even though I am confident that both of our treatments are working, and that we will be better, not working is still a scenario that is constantly in the back of my head.

We love our jobs. Our car accident and injuries have certainly slowed us down, and aggravated our illnesses. But we are both determined to get back to work.

Here’s what happens if, in the rare circumstance, we cannot.

I would receive Long Term Disability through my union, after a three month wait time following the expiration of my Employment Insurance (which lasts sixteen weeks – I have four more to go). The LTD isn’t permanent – it expires after a certain length of time.

My wife receives nothing, because she doesn’t have LTD through her job or union.

After my LTD expires, we would be forced to go on government disability, which pays a very small amount of money. Enough for the basics, but we would probably have to use the Food Bank and other charities. We would be living below the poverty line.

If we did not live in a housing cooperative, we would be forced to move somewhere affordable – a one or two bedroom basement suite in the suburbs, perhaps. Some government housing is also available, and because we have children we may have access to that.

In British Columbia, we are lucky – we can get our medication through “Plan G.” This program guarantees that people who need life-saving drugs get them, free of charge.

It’s a bleak picture to start the weekend, but this is how many people live. When you have a serious mental illness, this is what you fear. It’s the bogeyman that drives you to do whatever it takes to return to work.

So, I would like to thank politicians like Stephen Harper for guaranteeing more housing for the mentally ill by ensuring that state of the art prisons are being built across the country (a large amount of people who are incarcerated are mentally ill, and this gives them meals and a place to sleep – they have often stolen because they can’t afford either).

I would like to thank Mitt Romney for giving hope to millions of Americans by calling them wilful “victims” who wouldn’t be in their circumstance if it wasn’t for the government “enabling” them. I hope he gets elected so that a lot of mentally ill people wouldn’t be so lazy.

Finally, I would like to thank the governments of both countries for ensuring that our soldiers returning from overseas are getting the tough love that they need to fight PTSD, Depression, and other illnesses from combat. Bravo for encouraging them to ignore these disorders and stand on their own two feet.

I apologize for the bleakness of this post. I am feeling very depressed today. However it makes me very, very angry that the sickest people in our society are forced to fill out so much paperwork and contact so many agencies that some just give up. This just aggravates their illness.

We wouldn’t leave a cancer patient on the streets. We, through our elected officials, need to make certain that everyone has a chance to be well. This means streamlining the process to receive aid. Instead of firing so many public servants, resources should be redirected to help the afflicted.

I look forward to the day when a mentally ill, addicted or homeless person can walk into a single office – say “I need help,” and in an hour have housing, food, and treatment, with a goal to becoming employable. One stop shopping with no barriers.

This is a world that we can make happen.

That is a world I want to live in.

I hope that you do, too.


Dana said...

That is the world I also want to live in. Safe, decent shelter and nutritious food is a human right, not a commodity. No one can be well if they don't have these basic necessities.

Reanna said...

I'm glad you wrote about this, D'Arcy. It's one of the reasons I burned out of being a mental health worker.

I remember reading an article when I was still in the field that referred to the DTES as the wealthiest neighbourhood in North America because of all the funding given to programs for mental illness, addiction, homelessness, etc. There was no "trickle down" of that wealth... government disability when I quit that job hadn't topped $900/mo. Even with subsidized housing, that doesn't leave much for even basic necessities.

One thing that made me absolutely crazy was the coffee shop around the corner donating stale pastries to the building where I worked... I know it was intended as a "kindness," but some of my clients lived almost solely on high fat/high sugar/low nutritional value baked goods. Really awesome for people struggling with all kinds of health issues, including diabetes.