Shattered ( Part One – The Complaint)

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I was talking with a Doctor friend of mine recently, and they said something extraordinary. My friend said that the system in which they worked was worse now that it was 30 years ago when they started practice. This lead to discussing the issues with the health system, which lead to the issues with the mental health system, which led to issues with the government, which led to issues with our province, country, & world. At the end of the conversation we were both defeated by the enormity of the issues spiderwebbing out from local to international levels. Defeated by how jagged and broken our systems seems to be.

Another friend thinks this has happened because as individuals we are so concerned with expressing our own opinions, especially on social media, that the institution that generally hold us together can no longer bear the load. There is some truth in this.

But these institutions that drew us together began failing in the 1980’s and through the 90’s – well before the advent of facebook, twitter, and the red stripe of rage that runs through them. We were losing faith when governments, religions, trade organizations, unions, and community organizations became proxies in the war of economics and capitalism, dressed in the robes of politics, that launched when President Regan, Prime Minister Thatcher, and Milton Friedman began their ascendancy. Its a war that continues today and now uses the mask of populism as a prop.

The centre has shattered and the pieces left are so sharp that we cut ourselves by trying to pick them up and fit them back together. Identity politics further shatters what was blown apart by partisan hand grenades. You cannot speak publicly without being labelled with a tag that reinforces your worldview or has you attacked.

In the midst of this we hear the plaintive calls for us to reach back to a more civil form of public discourse. This comes from those who in the past chose not to rock any boats but fought quiet battles in back halls of power.

I don’t think it is possible for us to fit the pieces back together. To rebuild faith in institutions, political parties, churches, the media, or any other organs of society. We can’t do this because we don’t care about reforming institutions as a means to moderate us as much as we care about winning or being right.

We care more about making sure we get our piece of a tax cut. The result is we will not stand up for the poor or elderly than we will act for the addict or the mentally ill or those who feel the sting of prejudice. These may be a cause to add your voice to while in the moment, but to act to change these pandemics in any meaningful way? No. We don’t want to pay that tax or risk the wrath of corporations removing jobs to pay for the mechanisms of well-being.

So the middle class shrinks rather than stand up for itself and instead we complain about property taxes or how much teachers get paid. The middle class is self-involved and self-serving with the result that it dismantlements itself while the 1% cheers. We do this to ourselves using governments we elect.

I have a bleak view of things, and I understand that it is difficult to hear or consider. But you have to admit where you are before you can make any change and “innovation” or “ efficiency” or “going back to the good old days” will not save us. We must honestly see the enormity of our dysfunction before any change can be made and then, even if we do, it’s unlikely we have the will to do anything to change it.

We are, each one of us, shattered on the aspirations of our egos. We demand and demand and demand but only for ourselves and not for others who need our voices added to theirs. The end of the middle class will not come with a bang, but as Elliot said, with a whimper.

In the next post I’ll expand this by talking about personal vs. collective actions.

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North

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“Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.” Emily Dickinson

It seems that with the U.S. presidential election so many of us have been struggling to make sense of what happened and to shout our opinions of the result in the spaces we have available to us. Why did he win? Why did she loose? How could this happen? Why is there such racism, classism, misogyny, hatred, spite? Are all those people who voted for him that clueless?  Are they all rednecks? Are they all stupid? Why? Why? Why?

Myself? I think I have the answers, but really I don’t. I think I know the solutions, but really I don’t. All I have are half formed opinions that are bursting to get out of me. Frankly I simply don’t know. I don’t know why he was elected and she wasn’t. I don’t know why I feel powerless. I don’t know why I have such a huge energy to do something but with no idea of what to do. And if I am really, really honest with you dear friends this has been the state of things for a very, very long time.

I am adrift in a directionless fog of what to do, and have been for years. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know what I want. I want justice and mercy, equity AND equality, I want anyone was left behind brought to the front, I want kindness, I want the sharing of knowledge and freedom, and most of all I want love to infuse everything all the time. But knowing what you want is one thing. Knowing how to get there is another. With people I know casually and those who are close to me I sense they are lost as well. I sense they want the same things. If what i sense is true then why can’t we get there? Why isn’t there more love, more equity, and a sense that the world is bending toward the light?

I have been talking to one friend on great number of things for a number of years now. Through the these conversations we explore ideas Ideas about democracy, morality, beliefs, politics, friendship, institutions, government, and who we are. We agree on many things and disagree on others and I like that. I like the struggle, in our time together, to define an understanding. To create a kind of common compass with which we can chart our way through the times we are in.I love compasses for they are miraculous things. By using compasses humans created the means to chart the world, find the undiscovered country, and expand the horizons of what we thought was a certainty to what we see is possibility. The ability of a needle to point north is not only an absolute in an uncertain world, but also comforts us with guidance when we are lost.

That needle pointing north is what we seem to need right now. The thing of it is though that no one can tell you where your  internal needle is pointing. You have to, and will know this within yourself, like all great explorers who have followed the compass north, face some moments of truth and some moments of sacrifice to get there. We know what is necessary to achieve equity and justice. We know what is needed to make the least amongst us first. We know what justice and fairness looks like. We know what is needed to develop education, healthcare, wellness, and create a decent standard of living for the world. We know what is required to achieve the world we all talk about but can’t seem to get to. We know which way is north and may have to, like those explorers following a compass , sacrifice some of what we have in order to balance the scales so we all can stand in a place of possibility rather than the grim certainty we have experienced in the last few weeks.

We can all sense within ourselves where true north is as much as we know where the sun is when our eyes are closed and turn our faces into its warmth. I sense, rather than know, that there are answers to this feeling of being lost in the world. I sense, rather than know, the direction we might take in order to get to that undiscovered country. I sense, rather than know, that the rest of you sense this as well. Perhaps we all should work on a shared compass and follow that sense of true north.

Also the Fault of Progressives: Trump, Leitch, and the Age of Division

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We are all, quite rightly, appalled by the way Donald Trump has behaved. His xenophobic, sexist, misogynist,  racist, daily diatribes are in embarrassment to the Party of Lincoln. But while we are all feeling morally superior and content in our enlightenment, I am troubled by how we progressives helped to create the environment for this kind of viral hatred to grow.

We progressives are great a supporting causes like #YesAllWomen, #BringBackOurGirls, #IceBucketChallenge, #IndyRef, #BlackLivesMatter, #LoveWins . All of these are critical issues in our world and all of them very worthy of our attention but there is a problem. Who are we progressives ignoring?

There is the bias we show in the causes we champion and the people we don’t. In the case of the dog whistle politics of a Kellie Leitch or Donald Trump, the cause we did not pay attention to was the plight of the blue-collar worker and those who were ejected in to an uncertain future from the economic disaster of 2008. So many lost their jobs ,or were made redundant by changes in technology on the factory floor, that there became a huge group of people who were left behind. And while clever pundits and economists speak of creative destruction, in the real world millions lost the dignity of work in the middleclass.

The result? Men and women, many of whom had achievied  a middle-class lifewere thrown into a  long humiliating nightmare of uncertainty. Manufacturing jobs were devastated and never came back because those industries either moved to cheaper labour markets, Caterpillar did this here in London, or innovated through technology and so need radically fewer workers in plants. Also retraining programs were inadequate at best and callous at worst. A worker would rarely, especially in the US, get the training they needed to work in advanced manufacturing and would often be forced into programs that were irrelevant to the current job market. Also it was brutally tough for a 50 year old man or woman to retrain in the computer focused workd of advanced manufacturing.

So the dignity and stability of work, which is so critical to having a stable life, became a memory for millions across north America who instead found themselves in precarious work and precarious lives. They were, and are, a growing  group who are rightfully angry and rightfully feeling ignored. Into this vacuum come Kellie Leitch and Donald trump who provide easy targets for the anger and frustration. So it is any wonder that we have the environment that spawns a Donald Trump or Kellie Leitch? No progressive movement I’ve seen is advocating for this group  and so they support those who, through lies and misdirection, provide them with a target for their anger. Immigrants, political correctness, elites, women, international bankers and the list goes on and on. It is so easy for Trump or Leitch to pretend to be one of them while givig them targets for their anger that further thier callous ends. Meanwhile we in the progressive ranks shake our heads and tut in superiority. Racism, sexism, and prejudice are always unacceptable. But it should be equally unacceptable for so many millions to be left behind and become the targets for politicallu opportune predators like Trump and Leitch to pretend to use our friends and neighbours so callously.

Perhaps we need a new hashtag that lasts for more than a weekend. Perhaps we need a hashtag that says we will stand with those being ignored. Perhaps we should do more than a hashtag and actually send messages through the corridors of power and say we will not ignore our friends and neighbours any longer. We won’t stand for the denigration of the dignity of work and the humiliation of families that are left behind. That would be a proud achievement for the progressive movement. I doubt it will happen but it would be a proud moment. #nooneleftbehind

Generosity of Spirit

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There is a kind of whirligig tempo to the last week that surrounds us with sandblasted acceleration that everyone, me included, is thinking about. Of course it is our Canadian federal election i’m talking about. My social media feeds are filled with prognostications of who won the debate, who will win the election, what the foibles of each party and leader are, that in the end leave us feeling more than a little weary. But there were some issues that have been occupying my mind that I hoped would be addressed.

During the debates there was only one leader who brought up the social issues we face. Try to guess her name. Go on, I know you can figure it out. That’s right, Elizabeth May was the person to say what about poverty? What about health care? What about inequality? That was good to hear, even if for only a few very brief moments, as I’ve been thinking a lot about it in the last week. The rest acknowledged it as an after thought perhaps. I’m not blaming the other participants but rather pointing out an important missing space in the national conversation; much like Elizabeth May will be a missing space in the conversation enforced by the ridiculous “rules“ of the upcoming debates.

This, by the way, is not an endorsement of Ms. May. No. Rather it is to point something out something that I feel needs some closer examination. Her missing, as much as the important issues of social wellbeing are to the national conversation, needs some looking at. What does it say about the bastions of journalism if we can’t talk about the issues that leave many of our fellow Canadians further and further behind? What does it say about them if we ignore a key person and a raft of key issues on the cutting room floor? What does it say about us?

Last weekend I was celebrating my birthday and was at a local grocery store to pick up a few supplies with my family. We parked and while traversing the parking lot a man, sitting on the curb, asked if I had any spare change. I did and gave it to him. I went inside to get him a bottle of water as it was hot, returned, and gave it to him. I was just walking away and he asked “Hey, you a Habs fan?” I have been a Habs fan since I first moved to Canada, Lefleur being my hero, and told him so. He said, ”Knew it the moment I saw you. Hold on a sec I’ve got something for you.” He digs in his bag and comes out with a loonie celebrating the Canadiens. I told him i couldn’t take his money but he insisted and I accepted it with the generosity of spirit in which it was given. True generosity on my birthday from a man who did not seem to have the means to spare much. But he did and he shared what he had with me. I thanked him, shook his hand, and went on my way.

That moment has stayed with me all week as the election increased its tempo to a fevered pitch. He had very little but wanted to share something with me. A little generosity in a parking lot from someone who didn’t know me but wanted to share what he had. Within the context of our national, provincial, and local conversations his act seems to be a one-way proposition

given how little he had and how much so many of us have. In terms of the elections, this man and the many more like him are at best a postscript for the choosing of those who will represent us.

And on social media I see more and more pronounced judgements by many who look down upon anyone who is using our inadequate safety net; saying that they’re tired of these people and their unwillingness to work. So easy to say these things, so easy to throw a judgement out in public, so easy to click “Like.” Not so easy to look deeper and understand these problems, to see their complexity, and to try to then do something meaningful about it. Much easier to cast a judgement and move on to the next item on your Facebook feed.

in the end perhaps we can take a lesson from the man in the parking lot and his generosity of spirit. Perhaps those of us with the means, and the willingness to use our vote and voice can perhaps try to raise our own generosity of spirit to match this man’s. Perhaps with this we could filing some important gaps in the conversation going on right now. Perhaps this is an opportunity to do something a little different and change the focus. After all, it takes such little generosity on our part and provides such important opportunities for those in need.

When Jimmy Kimmel Cried

There has been much outrage and outrageousness over the brutal killing of Cecil the Lion, including the very authentic moment when late night host Jimmy Kimmel was visibly moved over how the animal was killed. My social media feeds for the last four days have been overwhelmed by a deluge of posts on the lion including calls for the perpetrator of the killing, a Minnesota Dentist, to be hunted himself. Yesterday morning, between the time when I was eating breakfast and listening to the radio while driving to work, I noticed something that left me a little troubled.

First was this story posted on my Facebook feed, “International report confirms: 2014 was Earth’s warmest year on record“ and then came, “Canada offers up to $8.3M in fight against ISIS” with this line in particular leaving me shaken, “Naked women are sold at market like cattle, with manuals on how to sell slaves and deal with them.”  Then this came up, “France deploys riot police at Calais as migrants try to rush Channel Tunnel” where Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain has offered to send dogs and chain link fence to deal with the issue of the economically displaced. And then there was “Verdict in Mohamed Fahmy retrial postponed until August” about a Canadian journalist who is still being held in Egypt. Or “Attacker stabs six people during Israel gay pride parade” about an ultra-orthodox man recently released from prison who had stabbed people at a parade five years previously and did the same thing again.  All of this I read in the space of the hour when I eat my breakfast and when I get to work.

While the issue of Cecil the Lion and the way this animal was butchered is tragic, I was struck by the lack of comparative attention to these other stories involving the lives of people around the world. I mean women and children being sold at sex slave markets with instruction manuals should create some outrage one would think, or the fact that thousands of economically displaced people from Libya to Afghanistan are trying to jump on to moving trains and trucks, where five have died, in order to get to Great Britain because they want a better life, should cause some attention on Facebook or Twitter, no? Or the fact that our planet seems to be on a collision course for radically higher sea levels and rapid weather change that would affect millions should at least create some stir? But no. The story of Cecil the Lion not only consumed social media but was in heavy circulation on our radios and tv sets and North America was focused on that.

How did this happen? How did we end up so focused on the case of this lion and not on at least some of the stories, or thousands like them, above? Have we become so disconnected from the plight of our brothers and sisters on our planet that what happens to them doesn’t even register anymore? Have we been reduced to veering wildly from Cecil to cat videos to the billions of inspirational videos that we cannot even see through the noise to what is happening around us? Or have we become so overwhelmed with the complexity of our economies and environments, combined with the distraction of the small screen, that we can’t even begin to grasp how to look at and deal with these very human issues?

I don’t believe that most people “just don’t care” or that Gen Y is “self involved and lazy” or that Baby Boomers are ”all about their own money and power” or that the poor should “be able to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps” or any of the thousands of easy one-line responses to issues and problems that are deeply complex and are woven through our communities and planet. No, I believe that people are essentially good and that our fellow humans will go out of their way to help those who need it.

But maybe we have become more myopic in what we react to and maybe that myopia leads us to not be able to understand our place in the larger context of humanity and our planet. And maybe the world comes at us so fast and in such a customized way that much of the world is filtered from our view even as it is happening right in our own backyard. And maybe, in writing this to myself and in recognizing my own small world view, we can lift our eyes a little higher to see over the horizon to see a wider view of our world and our place in it. Cecil is a part of that story but so are the millions of people from our own downtowns to the middle east and across the World. I hope you’ll remind me to lift my eyes as you remember to lift your own and consider the bigger picture and hope that Jimmy and the rest of us are as moved by these issues as we are by Cecil.

Who we are: My Sisters Place

When we are faced as a community with the vulnerabilities of homelessness, poverty, mental illness and addictions, we are brought face to face with our own capacity to take responsibility for our own actions and the actions of the communities in which we live. When we examine this a little further, we are also faced with the inequities of race and gender. If we have any hope of looking our children in the eye when we tell them we want to leave them a better world, we must face these issues.

Many things are better. Over the last 200 years the global poverty rate has diminished year over year, equality is enshrined into many country’s laws, and quality of life has improved in many places. However, we still have miles to go before we sleep. This week I was deeply shaken by the news that My Sisters’ Place would not receive ongoing funding from The City of London. 

Many have written to our City Council about this and the story has been covered in our local media but the story still bears repeating here. My Sisters’ Place is focused on services for women in our community who face issues of homelessness, addiction and mental illness. My Sisters’ Place is an environment where these women, who often have little reason to trust, can feel safe and begin to get the help they need when they need it. This last bit, the help they need when they need it, is a critical one. This meets the women where they are, when they need it, and with the respect and compassion they deserve. The Important thing is no one else in our community does this work through this critical gender lens.

Women’s Community House & The Sexual Assault Centre of London do critical, brilliant work and are strong partners with My Sisters’ Place, but My Sisters’ Place does something different. They help find housing and create stability for women on the street. Unfortunately the issue of reduced funding, a total of $116,000, from The City of London faced by My Sisters’ Place, speaks volumes to the growing unease we have in finding an end the issues of poverty, homelessness, and equality.

City programs allow non-profits to apply, guided by City of London staff, to a fund that meets a community need. The non-profit, in this case My Sisters’ Place, then creates the documentation and the reason they need this funding and what outcomes they will meet if successful. This is a very long and involved process that can often take months of work. What is important to understand is that My Sisters’ Place already receives funding through the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative. My Sisters’ Place was denied funding, for which they had previously been successful, for the Housing First/Homelessness Prevention Strategy which is a part of the Federal Governments Homeless Partnering Strategy funding. 

The decision was made by a group of volunteers made up of representatives of the London Homeless Coalition Steering Committee, London Police Service, Middlesex London Health Unit, London Public Library, United Way of London and Middlesex, Service Canada and the City of London. The staff of My Sisters’ Place did not have an opportunity to make a presentation on the merits of their application to this panel or any opportunity to answer their concerns. Nor do we know how the application was presented or framed for the members of the committee. 

In terms of process then, we had City staff directing an organization regarding where and how to apply, guiding them through that process, the application presented to a committee without representation by My Sisters’ Place, and were notified that $116,000/year was no longer available to serve the women of My Sisters’ Place.

I have complete confidence that the volunteers on this committee acted in good faith and made a decision with the best information they had at the time. But the question remains is whether that information was enough to provide a context for this decision given My Sisters’ Place did not present nor have an opportunity to answer questions or concerns? Perhaps, but we do not know.

We cannot blame our City Council for this circumstance either as they had no part of this decision at all. I am aware that many members of Council have supported My Sisters’ Place in the past and believe in their work. There is an appeal process fro My Sisters Place but if it is to staff as opposed to council then we continue with the issues stated above.

In the end though, the circumstances of this decision are irrelevant.

What is relevant is that a community organization that supports the most vulnerable women in our community, and already raises funds to cover 70% of their operating costs, is now left with a serious and damaging hole in the work they do. The effect will not be closing the doors of My Sisters’ Place. The effect will be a reduction of services for these women who already have so little and face huge barriers.

What does this say about us? What does this say about London?

While I am excited by the work I do on city building, the plans our community has for rapid transit, The London Plan, and our Mayor’s call to make London the startup capital of Canada, we cannot, nor should we ever, create a future in which our most vulnerable are left behind to watch us fade from view while we move forward toward a brighter future. But a future without them?

The consequence of this decision does not represent the spirit of this community nor the very generous way it has continually stepped up and faced the issues of homelessness, addictions, and mental illness. Nor does it represent the belief our community has that Women are as valued as Men irrespective of circumstance. 

If we want to leave a better world then we have to accept responsibility for that and act on our beliefs and not just mouth them. Ensuring that vulnerable women are served in London through the lens and uniqueness of gender is a part of that action. My Sisters’ Place then becomes a concrete example of our commitment to that belief and action. From this perspective, how can the City of London  not continue to fund My Sisters’ Place?

I am confident that the citizens of London will say that we must support these women and fund My Sisters’ Place. Because that’s who Londoners are. Not willing to leave the vulnerable behind.

Sensationalism, mental illness, and the London Free Press

It was with alarm that I became aware of an article by London Free Press reporter Jonathon Sher about Bethesda House, LHSC, and mental illness where Mr. Sher made some broad assumptions about not only those who have a mental illness, but about how we, as citizens of London should feel about them and the places where they are treated. The fact is that 1 in 5 of us has, or will have in the course of our lives, a mental illness. My personal  experience has been documented in other posts here, here, and here. I also have direct experience with advocating at all levels for the need for increased support for those with a mental illness.

Our own parliament defines mental health as:Mental health is defined as the capacity to feel, think and act in ways that enhance one’s ability to enjoy life and deal with challenges. 

Mental illness is defined by the Public Health Agency of Canada as: “Mental illnesses are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour associated with significant distress and impaired functioning.”

The Canadian Psychiatric Association quite rightly points our the dangers of how we define mental illness saying, “Mental illness and mental disorder are not easy to define. Misunderstandings lead to misuse and abuse of the terms, reinforce myths, and even prevent people from getting help when it is really needed.

The media has shaped many of the ways we think of people with mental illness through movies and TV like Psycho, American and Dexter, watching the real-life drama of Charlie Sheen and Bi-Polar/Bi-winning, or the sensational news stories of murderous rampages. We often don’t think  of people with mental health issues as having a medical and treatable illness. Mental illness makes many people very uncomfortable and since it is an “invisible” illness, it’s hard for us to understand the circumstances of a person with a mental illness in the same way we might if a person had cancer or a serious physical disability.

In the article published by the Free Press, of which there are two versions (version one and version two), there is an implication that some possibly dangerous people will be moving into the recently acquired Bethesda House and that the public need to be informed. The title of the article on May 15th was “London Health Sciences Centre’s secret: Program for psychotic disorders could move to former Bethesda Centre” and it opened with the following sentence, “London’s largest hospital is considering moving a program for adolescents and young adults with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders into a residential neighbourhood.“ The headline and first sentence are written in a way as to sensationalize this issue by implying that LHSC intentionally kept the move a “secret” because they feared the community’s response. Mr. Sher is perpetuating a stereotype that people with mental illnesses should be feared.  

Emphasizing  this point at the end of the first sentence Sher says, “a possibility officials didn’t acknowledge until pressed repeatedly by The Free Press.”  So not only is a threat moving into residential neighbourhoods, but it’s being hidden by our local hospital. The article goes on to say, “London Health Sciences Centre announced Wednesday what appeared to be unambiguous good news for the London neighbourhood tucked behind the Children’s Museum .“ So now we not only is there danger and a cover up, but Mr. Sher has made sure to let us know that it will be close to a children’s play facility. All of this in the first 57 words of his article. 

The article goes on to to explain that at first it was supposed to be only an eating disorders program moving to Bethesda but, “It was only after The Free Press insisted on a response that the head of the hospital acknowledged Thursday that PEPP might be moved.” What is PEPP? PEPP stands for the Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychoses which, according to the website for the program is, “a community-focused mental health program which provides prompt assessment and comprehensive, phase-specific medical and psychosocial treatment for individuals experiencing their first episode of psychosis. The program is structured around a modified assertive case management model. The intensity of the treatment is guided by the patient’s needs, the family’s needs and the stage of illness.” This program is designed to provide an early intervention to help teens and young adults in preventing serious mental illness. I worry however that these young people may stay away after the way these articles have framed them as a potential danger. Young adults are self-conscious enough about how they are viewed and as a result of these articles they may never go to PEPP to get the help they need.

The article, with help from an anonymous source inside the PEPP program, goes on to say  “We all find it odd that our clinic (PEPP) was left off of the letter. I think residents in the area should know just what kind of clinic is moving into their area,” and further states “There’s such a stigma in mental health and not including PEPP on the announcement isn’t helping matters,” a staff member wrote in an e-mail to The Free Press.”   What is troubling here is the seemingly incongruous statements of “I think area residents should know just what kind of clinic is moving into the area” and then to discuss stigma “There’s such a stigma in mental health and not including PEPP on the announcement isn’t helping matters.” So we have a statement that residents should be warned and then a statement about the stigma for those with mental illnesses. A warning on the one hand and then the pointing to the damage of stigma on the other. 

The second article, which uses the same website address as the first, is headlined with “Neighbours cry foul at LHSC’s handling of possible move of psychoses program to residential area“ and again starts with the alarmist opening sentence, “A London hospital might move a program for those with schizophrenia and other psychoses into a residential neighbourhood.”  Very much like the first article, Mr.Sher has linked mental illness with the inference of danger moving into a residential neighbourhood. Much of the next several paragraphs are the same as the first article then we have the response from neighbours, “The lack of disclosure upset neighbours, who received notices from the hospital that made no mention of the psychoses program. Again the inference of some cover up of danger by not sharing this information with the neighbours. 

Both articles imply that mental illness is dangerous and the hospital is trying to cover up the move of PEPP and at the end of each article, the following poll appears. “Would you be upset if a program for people with psychotic disorders moved into your neighbourhood? “ I’m not sure The London Free Press could be any less ambiguous about the linking of those with a mental illness to causing disruption and danger to a neighbourhood. This insensitivity to those with mental illness leads to increased stigma and prejudice and is being amplified by the very large reach of our local newspaper.

I have no argument that LHSC should have been much more thoughtful about the potential move of these programs. They seem to have dropped the ball and it also seems to me that in this case there are some employees with an axe to grind about the program’s move and because they had that axe to grind they contacted The London Free Press. Fair enough, and so they should, but to then create the kind of connections the article did between implied danger and young adults with serious mental health issues is sensational, insensitive and unfeeling. If a diabetes program were to move into the neighbourhood would Mr. Sher be as compelled to shine the light of journalism on this issue? If the hospital hid plans to move a geriatric specialist  into the neighbourhood should we not also be worried?  All those old people are coming from somewhere and they’re coming to your neighbourhood! No, of course not, but in these articles this medical and physical illness is being ostracized for reasons I am having trouble understanding.

The lives of people with mental illnesses are hard enough without articles like these coming out and re-instilling false fears. We don’t need to be worried about the mentally ill living amongst us for indeed they already are and have always done so. Mr. Sher’s article has made it just that much harder for people with a mental illness, including those I love, to be accepted for who they are. I’m not sure why Mr. Sher reported this story with this slant but perhaps next time he covers mental health he could be a little less cavalier about linking mental illness with danger and perhaps a little more thoughtful about the impact this kind of writing has on our fellow Londoners with a mental illness. We could all learn a lesson here and exposing stigma and prejudice about mental illness is not only for Mental Health Day, in my house and in our community, it should be everyday. 

Our newspaper should better serve our community and not resort to this kind of sensational reporting. Most of the time it does this, but in the case of these two articles there is a lot of room for improvement. I hope that happens and I hope Mr. Sher pauses next time before increasing the prejudice and stigma of mental illness by linking it to cover ups and implied danger. Those with a mental illness and their families have enough of a burden already without the added weight of this kind of sensational reporting.