Opinion: Declining mental health resources in Saskatchewan frightening

Estimated read time 6 min read

A Saskatchewan woman with mental illness decries the lack of resources as debate rages over expanding medical assistance in dying (MAID).

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As somebody who has been struggling with mental health issues for more than 20 years, I was shocked and afraid watching the news coverage about including mental illness as a sole reason for triggering medical assistance in dying (MAID).

Twenty years ago, I thought treatment in Saskatchewan was sparse, but I got a counsellor pretty easily. I also had a kind, understanding psychiatrist, whom I saw for nine years. Nothing has been the same since he was shuffled away from his patients.

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Now the resources are so thin. Currently, I would not have a counsellor if my partner’s work insurance plan did not pay for it.

I approached the provincial mental health clinic in Regina about counselling maybe five years ago or more. They were offering what they called “episodes of care” with a maximum of six sessions. What mental illness can be addressed in six sessions?

Eventually, in an attempt to switch medication with some supervision, I had the misfortune of spending the five worst days of my life in the mental health unit at the Regina General Hospital in 2019.

I left feeling so traumatized, I made sure my loved ones know that under no circumstances will I go back.

Meanwhile, I think of the number of times I’ve been treated kindly in medical clinics until a doctor or staff member opens my chart or finds out I have mental illness; then our interaction changes almost immediately. We’re not real patients to them.

And this happens in facilities with signs warning about abuse of medical staff.

I wonder if my fellow mentally ill can see the writing on the wall for us, if Canada one day moves forward with mental illness as a sole reason for MAID.

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A lady I saw profiled on TV news was from Regina, like myself. She had been suffering with depression and anorexia for 30 years without any treatment working. She wanted to die with dignity now, because she didn’t think anything was going to improve.

The symptoms of depression include feeling suicidal. This patient, clearly in a suicidal state, lacks the emotional capacity to make that decision. And I can say that because I’ve been there.

Maybe her mental health could improve with adequate resources, but it’s clear our governments do not care about the lives of the mentally ill as seen with degraded resources and some psychiatrists who lack the manner required to deal with psychiatric patients.

Some are terrifying. Or you could be dumped by your psychiatrist like I was last summer, with no warning or alternate psychiatrist. Abandoned in the middle of treatment amid a change in meds, I’ve been trying to recover for months and am still working out an adequate treatment plan.

I’m terrified that MAID could become the ultimate, final treatment option for the mentally ill. This might sound crazy if you haven’t seen what I’ve seen, but it’s a tidy way to clean up the mental health backlog and get rid of “problem” cases.

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We then become a society that accepts the idea that if you’re mentally ill, you might have to choose death if it gets too bad, which would be very sad and unfortunate, but ultimately OK.

If MAID for mental illness alone becomes law one day, I fear for my life should my illnesses ever incapacitate me, or it’s believed I am incapacitated. It could be decided for me, especially if I have nobody to advocate for me, that my prognosis is so dismal, this would be the most “humane” thing.

I hope to seek out a lawyer and get something in place, so nobody can kill me against my will if I become too burdensome on the health-care system. It might not come to that, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, as this issue simply lies in wait.

Nicole Stenerson moved from her family farm outside Sonningdale, Saskatchewan, to Regina to study music, and lives there today with her partner and her puppy Winston. 

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