GUESS AGAIN, GRANDPA!: Don’t lock me up in a mental institution

Guess Again, Grandpa! is a brand new column by Rachel Wong. Each week Rachel argues against her grandfather’s perspectives, presenting insights into the differences between generations. Check back every week for new content!


[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving a conversation about mental health can be difficult, especially if those involved are uneducated or have preconceived notions on the issue. Hypotheses about why people suffered from mental illness have varied throughout history — from being possessed by demons to having your mind taken away — and treatment has ranged from eating a strictly vegetarian diet to not having treatment at all.

By the 1960s, a wave of deinstitutionalization swept the United States, moving mentally ill people from institutions to local mental health homes. Having the mentally ill out of institutions led to a rise in homelessness and increase in violence due to lack of treatment and follow-up care. With those suffering from schizophrenia, depression, and other mental illnesses on the streets, it really is no wonder that our grandparents have a different and perhaps fearful view of the mentally ill.

Surely there were people with depression 50 years ago. Post-partum depression in women must have existed, and those traumatized by ‘shellshock’ (now known as PTSD) must have been seen walking around. Our knowledge has increased, but 50 years later, our conversations are still stifled by our lack of understanding.

I asked my grandpa this: “What do you think about mental health? How do you think we can help these people in society?”

Grandpa was less enthusiastic about this topic. “In the 50’s, straitjackets and padded cells helped these people. Then people were released and began to run loose in the streets, getting into all kinds of trouble. No one wants to talk about that stuff. Those people are dangerous and should be locked up,” he said.

As of 2012, Canada spends a whopping seven cents per every healthcare dollar on mental health.

Sorry Grandpa, but we do need to talk about this stuff. It’s 2016, and we’re still sweeping mental illness under the rug. We don’t lock up these patients, we help them.

Of course, we are moving forward: Bell’s annual “Let’s Talk” campaign has generated nearly $100 million for mental health initiatives in Canada since 2010. More celebrities are openly discussing mental health issues and have in turn opened up a conversation on these topics through social media.

Despite this, our generation still has a difficult time asking for help. In a school environment, we have classes to pass, student debts to pay off, and people to please. Millennials were dubbed by Business Insider’s Kevin Loria as “the most stressed out generation.” High levels of stress can lead to a number of unhealthy habits as well as anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

Sure, we have pills to take and doctors to see, but if we’re so scared about what other people will think about us, then what are the chances that we are going to use these resources effectively, if at all?

As of 2012, Canada spends a whopping seven cents per every healthcare dollar on mental health, which is lower than other developed countries. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimates that “1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health or addiction problem.” That one in five could be a family member, best friend, or someone sitting across from you on transit.

As someone who has depression and anxiety, these facts are disturbing. We shouldn’t need to institutionalize everyone that suffers from mental illness. We need to be more comfortable with the term, its background, and what it entails. We don’t have to be psychiatrists, but what we do need to be is respectful and understanding.

So there, Grandpa. Your granddaughter has depression. But don’t lock me up in an institution because of it. Let’s talk about it instead.