Mama Bear in PEI and the Red Herring of Stigma Part One


By Marvin Ross

Regular readers of this blog are quite familiar with the successful attempts by Marlene Bryenton of Charlottetown to rescue her son Andrew from the streets of Toronto where he lived for many months. Andrew suffers from a psychotic illness and spent many months wandering the streets of Toronto. Almost a year ago, because of his lack of insight into his illness which is not uncommon with psychosis, he stopped taking his medications and left home eventually ending up in Toronto.

He became one of thousands of people with untreated mental illness who had been left to fend for himself because of our refusal as a society to look after these sick souls. The difference for him was a tenacious mother who refused to give up. If you search this blog for “Bryenton”, you will find a number of blogs written by me or others who described why this happened and will continue to happen if our governments continue to refuse to help.

Today, Andrew is in hospital in Charlottetown and improving but his mother who refers to herself as Momma Bear is still concerned that his insight will not come back. Andrew still wants to stop taking his medication once discharged and to return to the streets of Toronto. Only two things will prevent that. The first is that he will be in hospital long enough to develop insight so that he will continue with his treatment upon discharge. That is not uncommon in many cases. The second is that he qualifies for a community treatment order (CTO) that will require him to continue with his medication for the right to live in the community.

His mother fought for a CTO for PEI which has not had one and it has been passed. Once it receives Royal Assent, it will take time for the regulations to be developed but, more importantly, it is deficient and Andrew will not qualify.

The PEI rule states that a patient needs at least 2 involuntary admissions AND a total of 30 days as involuntary inpatient. Andrew has only had one involuntary admission. Two of the leading experts in CTO’s (Dr Richard O’Reilly and Dr. John Gray) have suggested that the “AND ” be replaced by “OR” but it has been refused.

The rule in the neighbouring province of New Brunswick states that one admission of any duration OR none if there is a “pattern of behaviour” that is likely to cause serious harm or deterioration. Alberta has a similar provision to N.B.

PEI refuses to budge and so Marlene has another petition going across Canada to lobby for that change. See https://chng.it/MF2H48rszv

This is Marlene’s second petition. Her first which was successful was to arrange a ministerial order to have Andrew transferred from his hospital in Toronto to Charlottetown. As an aside, Andrew’s lengthy stay in that hospital came about from his mother’s fourth attempt to get him care. Four times she went to a Justice of the Peace to get a judicial order to have the police pick him up and take him to hospital for a psychiatric assessment. Three earlier attempts resulted in his being discharged between a few hours to the 72 hours required by law.

So, where does stigma enter into all this? If Marlene believed there was stigma towards those with mental illness and their families, she would have done nothing to help her son. She likely would have thought, what’s the use. No one understands and people are afraid of mental illness. But she didn’t do that. She plunged ahead and began posting on various facebook pages information about her son and his plight asking people to look for him and to let her know.

And people did just that looking out for Andrew, snapping a pic or taking a video and sending it to his mother. Likely thousands of them many of whom also approached him on the street with money, food, drinks and clothing. Where was the stigma the government and institutions tell us about? Now I don’t want to impute conspiracy into this but maybe if governments stopped with the stigma focus and used that money to provide the resources we need to help people, there wouldn’t be so many Andrews.

Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign devotes time, money and resources to talking about stigma which could be used to actually do something. As a country, we have far fewer hospital beds, psychiatrists, supported housing, community resources and disability allowances than most other 1st world countries. Improvements to all of those issues is far more crucial than worrying about stigma.

A big part of that stigma comes from families of those who are ill so it is mostly self imposed. Maybe because we’ve all been told that stigma exists but, as I’ve discovered many times, most people have experience with mental illness and are very understanding and sympathetic. However, there are some families who do not speak out to health professionals because they have been ignored too often. The solution to that is to move your concerns up the bureaucratic ladder. No competent health professional should ignore family input.

Cancer and AIDS were also shrouded in secrecy but once people began talking about them, the situation improved. Those of us who have been impacted by serious mental illness in our families have to become more vocal for the sake of our family members and all who will come along in the future.

The Bryenton’s are showing us how to do that and we need to replicate their efforts.

Part Two from Dr. Dawson coming tomorrow. Stay tuned.



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