By Marvin Ross
Last week, after a herculean effort by his mother Marlene in Chalottetown and volunteers in Southern Ontario, Andrew was discharged back to living on the streets of Toronto after a 72 hour hold. Presumably, doctors did not feel that a former assistant bank manager diagnosed with a serious mental illness and living on the street required medical intervention. (See my two previous blogs for background).
Andrew is homeless again wandering the streets, sleeping where he can and accepting help with money, clothes, snacks and liquids from the kindness of strangers. He is but one of the thousands of homeless in our cities and towns across the country – many of whom suffer untreated mental illness and many of whose families do not know where they are. His mother is hoping that her numerous appeals to Ontario politicians will facilitate his medical transfer back to Prince Edward Island where his psychiatrist is waiting to help.
Supporters of Marlene have inundated Premier Ford with e-mails requesting help and a medical transfer to PEI. Ford’s office responded to Marlene to say:
“Thanks for reaching out about your son Andrew and his current health situation. I’m sorry to hear about the difficult experiences and challenges you’ve had to overcome.
With that said, I do appreciate your insight on this matter and take your concerns seriously. I’ve forwarded your email to the Honourable Sylvia Jones, Minister of Health, for her information.”
One of the organizers of the letter writing then was asked to stop the e-mails as they’ve had enough and if they continue, they will simply put an auto-reply on any further ones. I’m told they are working on a “plan” but nothing further has been heard and Ford’s reply said he was going to notify the Minister of Health for her information. No mention of any resolution.
I will leave it to the readers to determine what all that means.
Sadly, a hospital discharging a mentally ill person back into the streets is not new. As Vancouver mother, Marilyn Baker wrote here:
“Seventeen days later, the phone rang again. It was three in the afternoon, so six Toronto time. Matthew was being abruptly discharged into a freezing February night in Toronto. He had no place to stay, no friends or family nearby, no money, no identification, no nothing. He had no means to cope with the freezing cold February night.”
In one of my earliest blogs for Huffington Post in 2011, I wrote “Who can explain why our society treats those with Alzheimer’s disease medically while we increasingly treat those with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses in jail?”
“Alzheimer’s disease impacts the elderly while schizophrenia, which begins in late adolescence, initially impacts the young. Among the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are delusions, paranoia and impulsive behaviour. Symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder and, in many cases, paranoia.”
There is no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s but there is for schizophrenia. Schizophrenia was initially thought to be an early form of dementia hence the name dementia praecox or premature or precocious dementia.
The one symptom they have in common which I did not discuss before is wandering or running away. Both do and to prevent that, dementia wards are locked or people in the community are outfitted with GPS devices so they can be easily traced if they do wander off. When someone with dementia wanders off and is lost, no one suggests that it is their right to do so. Attempts are made to find them quickly and to take them home so they do not perish which, sadly, does happen.
Some people with active psychosis also have a tendency to run away to the streets because they are frightened, anxiety ridden or following the dictates of their hallucinations. The humane response is to find them and get them treatment and not let them live in their fear and anxiety while their mental state further deteriorates. Living on the streets is dangerous particularly in the winter in our cold climate. Our mental health laws need to be improved to accommodate these facts.
The Bryenton family is living through a needless hell while the medical system and the politicians ignore reality. It is time for them to step up!.