Inspired by Michael and Clara

Yesterday I saw one of Canada’s greatest Olympians Clara Hughes on Michael Landsberg ‘s program Off The Record. She was talking about her struggle with depression. Ms Hughes is a woman I have a great deal of respect for and who is a great role model for kids in this country.  Her willingness to talk openly about her battle with depression is a great gift to Canada.  I have more respect for her now than ever.  

Mental health is so important. And yet sadly, there is still so much stigma attached to mental illness, many suffer in silence.  With 20% of Canadians experiencing mental illness at some point in their lifetimes, it is a certainty that we will identify with this. If we have not struggled with mental illness we most likely have a family member or a friend who has.  We look at those who are depressed and see weakness. Michael Landsberg, who has also battled depression, addressed this on his program with Clara Hughes, remarking that a woman like Hughes who has been so successful, winning multiple medals in both winter and summer Olympics, is far from weak.  Why is it that we will look at someone who fights cancer and see them as strong people and look to those who have been fighting mental illness, in some cases for a long time, and regard them as weak? It is time for change.  It is a matter of life and death.

Since the New Year we have had at least three deaths in this city that are a direct result of mental illness and the failures in our health care system to provide adequate levels of care to who suffer. In January 51 year old Steven Michael Kokotec took his life after being released from hospital.  Shortly after that 63 year old Charles Kirkwood who suffered with mental illness was discovered dead in a field near the nursing home from where he had disappeared just a few hours earlier.  Last week 68 year old Stella Marie McDonald who had fought a lifelong battle with bipolar disease was found dead in a backyard across the street from her Rest home.  All of this to begin the year, knowing that the 2010 ended in the same fashion. On December 23, Margaret Draskovich , aged 42, walked away from the psychiatric ward of Hotel Dieu-Grace Hospital and has never been found. Her fingerprints and blue slippers were located near the river front by police who believe that she most likely took her life. These are the cases that have ended in the greatest tragedy that have made the paper. Make no mistake; there are so many more stories that have gone untold. Mental Health needs to be addressed in this city. There is a crisis before us and we must speak up.  We need to hear from Dwight Duncan, Sandra Pupetello and Bruce Crozier.  What is their government doing to address this crisis? While heath care is a provincial portfolio, we need to hear from Joe Comartin and Brain Masse and Jeff Watson. Is there any conversation at the federal level about this crisis in mental health care? We need to hear from our mayor and councillors. What is the city doing to advocate for funding for our hospitals and our mental health facilities as well as our local Canadian Mental health Association. I call us all to speak to those who are elected and demand more.  

As a people of God we know that we are required to do no less than speak up and speak out for those who are being forgotten.  Each and every person is a great gift of God and made in God’s image. We need to do our part in reminding those who feel alone and isolated because of mental illness that they are not alone and they can be an important and productive part of our society. The prophet Isaiah reminds us:

“God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
   He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
   And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
   gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
   young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
   They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
   they walk and don’t lag behind.”    –
Isaiah 40:28-31 (The Message)

Today we pray in thanksgiving for people like Michael Landsberg and Clara Hughes who have the courage to speak up and speak out about their own mental health. (You can view the interview from OTR by clicking here – see the site and send Michael a thank you note for hosting Clara Hughes).  Michael Landsberg noted on the program that he likes to say you have to ‘fight for your happiness.’ I would say that as a people we need to fight for everyone’s happiness and more than happiness we need to fight for everyone’s health.

7 thoughts on “Inspired by Michael and Clara

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  1. The stigma against the mentally ill is fueled by stories of mentally ill who kill. We start to believe that any “wacko” person could be another mass murderer like Jared in Tuscon. We remember the son in Windsor who killed his father, Dr. Demers. We know somebody who refused to take meds because he/she didn’t like feeling cloudy and went on to create embarrassment in the family. Even if a family member is concerned about a son/daughter/father/mother, that person cannot be hospitalized against his “free will.” We now pitch the mentally ill out on the street. It is said that the prisons are the new mental health facilities in the United States (and this is a totally different topic from Canada’s) It makes me wonder how we are to help erase the “stigma” of mental illness if the mentally ill person will not help him or herself and the families are wringing their hands in frustration, trying to find a rare psychiatrst to help. What are we to do when the merely garden variety odd or different can be bullied or shunned? The homeless have no homes. The foodbanks diet is not healthy. The unemployed have no jobs. There is certainly a huge field for prayer and action.

    On another note, you may be surprised to learn how many people feel shame about having cancer or other physical ills and withdraw from church

    1. Thank you for your comments Evelyn
      I agree that there can be stigma with other diseases. But I must hasten to add that having tended pastorally to people with all manner of illness, there is no shortage of people who engage in conversation with those who have cancer, or who will ask how they are doing. People with other illness often withdraw, but their families and friends do not withdraw. They come to their side. Not so with depression, bi-polar, suicide survivor, etc….in fact it becomes something that is whispered about if ever spoken of at all. In the meantime the fight, the struggle, and hand wringing that families feel is often worsened by their fear to reach for what help there is because of the shame that they feel. Jails are not the place for those who are mentally ill. The street is not the place for the mentally ill. The Nursing home is not the place for the mentally ill. I would also note that not all mental illness is the same. Some have struggled with depression for instance, silently for fear of being viewed as weak and ‘less than.’ There are those who refuse help from family, there are those who have no idea how to say yes to help – this too may be a byproduct of stigma….these issues are complex for sure. Lots for prayer but even more for action.

  2. It is a gift to be frank and honest about oneself. If we cannot ask for help and receive it, nobody can help us. This goes for the mentally ill as well. I am honest about the path I will travel in life. I declare that I would not knowingly agree to have the following in my life: mental illness, physical or mental abuse or untreated alcoholism. I would expect a potential partner to be honest about these things as in AIDS.

    Frankly,I do not understand the “shame” expressed in this article. Why would anyone feel compelled to discuss his/her antidepressant meds or therapy? Help yourself if you have a mental illess and if you are FAT like me, go to the gym lose weight and stop waiting for a magic bullet. Same thing eh.

    1. I am sorry to say Evelyn, I do not understand what that last post is all about. Mental Illness is not a choice. People who suffer from it cannot just ‘declare’ to not have it in their lives. It is far more complex than you seem to be portraying it to be. Not sure what the weight comment is all about, sad to read it though. When I see you, I do not see a fat person. I find the ‘magic bullet’ reference alarming as I have known those who have suffered from mental illness that have sadly committed suicide because their is no simple cure (if that is what you meant by magic bullet). I am sorry that you have so little empathy for those with mental illness….I am sure there is more that you can share with me in person that may shed some light on what these strong feelings are all about. Your last posts leaves me troubled and with a few questions

      1. Yes Kevin, I do lack the empathy that many demonstrate in caring day to day for the mentally ill. This is brutal honesty about myself in this regard even though I have great empathy for others in other areas of life. I am as much and more hard on myself in my failings even though they are not mental illness. It is a tribute to those who have posted on this subject that they demonstrate the toughness or capacity rquired as it is not easy to deal with the behaviours of some mentally ill people. I know of this only through the experiences of three friends whose partners or children refused to consistently take meds and later had to deal with legal, criminal repercussions from those individuals. I know that nobody would choose to develop a mental illness but having it does not excuse that person from personal responsibility to get treatment. They might not recognize the need or agree to accept treatment. Thus it falls on the family or like minded caregivers to deal with the aftermath. I would hope that God would grant me the strength to deal with the mental illness of a loved one if it were to develop later in his/her life. I would not choose to go into a relationship with someone diagnosed with mental illness. This may denounce me as lacking empahy, but it is honest. Nor would I choose to experience alcoholism or physical or mental abuse.

        IF a person hides the truth that he/she has been hospitalized and diagnosed for mental illness it is similar to hiding AIDS. My being fat and calling it by its right name is one of my failings but I do not blame it on anyone else and only I can do something to change it. The example was a poor one. And it seems that, at least in one of the cases mentioned in the postings, someone took responsibility for recognizing his need for mental help and was released from hospital. Windsor is underserviced for medical help. I hear the sadness and anger of the family menbers left behind when somone commits suicide.

        I found your response to be fair and compassionate to me. I love the dialogue and the gentle confrontation to be more clear.

  3. I am Steve’s Kokotec’s sister, Barb and as mentioned in the above article, Steve tragically took his life on Jan 9, 2011 after being discharged from Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor.
    As you know Hotel Dieu has been taken over by the Ministry of Health due to recent medical errors and has been reported extensively about these problems in the Windsor Star prior to my brother’s tragedy. After Steve’s death, it has come to my attention that Steve’s situation is not unique.
    A petition has been started to pressure the regional coroner, Dr. Rick Mann, to conduct an inquest into not only the death of my brother Steve, but for two other families who have loved ones take their lives soon after they have been discharged from Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital. They are Danny Laporte and Clinton Robert Epp.
    Here are the circumstances behind this petition:
    • Danny Laporte completed suicide on April 30th,2006 just 12 hours after been seen by the staff at Hotel Dieu.
    • On Feb 7th 2009, Clinton Robert Epp, was seen at Hotel Dieu according to his mother for only “a matter of minutes” and completed suicide two days later.
    • My brother, Steve went back to the Hotel Dieu emergency department voluntarily, on Friday Jan 7, Saturday Jan 8th and on Sunday Jan 9th where he was finally admitted by the emergency room physician at approximately 9 am for 72 observation period but only to be discharged by the on-call psychiatrist where he committed suicide at approximately 11:12 am.
    • Steve was in the hospital for several weeks prior to him being discharged on Thursday Jan 6th so his condition was not “unknown” to the clinicians at Hotel Dieu.
    • After Danny Laporte’s death, his sister Kim requested an inquest into his death. In a letter that Kim received, the regional coroner at that time concluded that Hotel Dieu made significant changes to their operating procedures that a “death similar to Danny’s would be less likely today”. Kim never did receive a copy of the detailed changes that the hospital implemented.
    I realize that I cannot bring Steve back, but I am hoping that the inquest into Steve’s death and these two others will make the necessary changes to both Hotel Dieu’s operating procedures and perhaps changes to the law concerning Mental Health to prevent someone else from suffering the same tragedy. I also feel that had an inquest been carried out for Danny Laporte, Steve and Clinton would be alive today.
    The online petition can be found at:
    A facebook page has been created. It is titled “Petition for Joint Inquest”. All of the articles/editorials written about Steve’s death has been posted on this page. So please take the time to sign the petition and I would be eternally grateful if you forward the petition on.
    Thanking you for your support
    Barb Kokotec

    1. If a patient is hospitalized “for weeks” in a mental ward at the hospital, it seems to me that a separate facility is needed to deal with such cases. Health dollars are finite and many other patients go wanting for care. Who is to receive the care or can we increase the taxes so much that every single person gets care for a lifetime? What was lacking in this man’s health care that “several weks” of hospitalization were insufficient to help him? Cancer patients go to Hospice. Were there not long term facilities for mentally ill patients in St. Thomas and were those facilities not closed because it was “better to release such patients into the community?” Always it is the “blame game” and it seems that psychiatrists are not very clever in predicting and diagnosing who will go on to commit suicide.

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