I am tremendously disappointed with Premier Christy Clark's decision to veto the reopening of Riverview, especially after her government's tyrannical reign of downsizing and neglect to the mental health sector. Not simply because I feel her decision would increase crime and suicide rates among individuals with psychiatric illnesses, as so many of her critics warn about. Nor is it because I foresee it would overburden our police force, requiring more police funding to deal with the increase in crimes committed. And my disappointment is certainly not rooted in the economic damage this problem would contribute to as our police force becomes overtaxed.
After all, what do I know about these issues? I certainly do not hold even a meagre community-college degree in sociology or economics. I am functioning in life with just a basic Grade 12 education. What I do possess, however, is direct personal experience: Since I was a teenager, I've suffered numerous harrowing and torturous bouts of severe mental illness that certainly could have prematurely ended my life by suicide if not for Riverview. Riverview Hospital has saved me from this horrifying fate in ways that no other community-based care program could have.
My story begins in February of 1997, when, three years after having been diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, I was transferred to the facility. At that point, every single avenue for social reintegration had been exhausted by regular hospital, boarding home and men's shelter staff. I had, so to speak, slipped through the cracks of the mental-health intervention system.
I was severely depressed and my thought processes raced so incoherently that I struggled even with simple self-expression, producing at best what is known in psychiatric lingo as "word salad." I had little interest in the microcosm around me and spent day after day pacing through the ward or sitting on my isolated chair, contemplating suicide and the iniquity of faulty brain biochemistry. For many reasons, I desired nothing more than immediate euthanasia, which, of course, wasn't an option as far as the psychiatrists were concerned.
Because I had a history of escaping from hospitals, boarding homes and men's shelters and attempting suicide shortly afterwards, my caregivers locked me in a ward on the fourth floor of the Centre Lawn building - initially. I was a hopeless case; many psychiatrists informed me I would never "get back on my feet," as my mother always used to urge when I first became afflicted. Very bleak also were my chances of acquiring meaningful employment or finding what I longed for most - a girlfriend. How wrong these professionals would ultimately prove themselves to be! Within a month of residing on the facility, my mood and thought processes were already starting to improve. A small part of it could have been the new drugs the psychiatrists had medicated me with. Personally, though, I accredit my improvement largely to my surroundings - the Riverview grounds and, more importantly, my fellow patients.
If you've never been to Riverview, you probably don't realize the magic that its beautiful, rustic grounds can inspire you with. As a person with a passionate love for the great outdoors, I can surely attest to Mother Nature's ability to heal even the deepest psychological wounds, surprisingly even my own. The rustic appeal and sense of security these grounds provided were unparalleled; they were a safe haven to those who couldn't function in the real world where they'd be taunted, taken advantage of or abused.
What community-based program could assure such security, serenity and beauty? In which facility could they keep you confined in a locked ward for your own safety until perhaps you learned more effective coping methods and behaviours to handle more independence? Nothing before Riverview had satisfied these basic human needs for me. Riverview hospital staff provided these needs professionally; they were instrumental in helping me to grow and build the confidence I needed to survive outside a mental hospital setting.
But it wasn't merely the rustic backdrop and safely confined premises that contributed to my flourishing state. I also highly impute my recovery to my copatients. Being in a place where others with similar illnesses can mingle and share stories without fear of being judged is, in my opinion, the ideal environment to nurture growth of the shattered spirit, until it's ready to move on to greater challenges. Whether I was playing pool with someone at Penn Hall, enjoying a delicious serving of large fries with similarly challenged individuals, or even dancing every Friday at Valleyview Pavilion, there were always social activities going on that ensured I wasn't suffering alone. Nothing in the community can offer this level of interaction with a population entirely of likeminded people.
As I eventually gained grounds privileges and began exploring the lush, green property, I began a gradual course of recovery. Within five months of being admitted, on my 21st birthday, I was discharged and transferred to a boarding home in Port Coquitlam. From then on, minus several setbacks and many years of forming more efficient neural networks, I eventually proved my caregivers wrong, accomplishing what I wouldn't have accomplished if Riverview hadn't saved me first.
Although my story is incomplete, today I have achieved a success very atypical of someone with such a burdening, hopeless diagnosis. I currently work a challenging but rewarding grocery store job 18 hours a week; I am studying with aspirations to become an astronomer; I live alone; and yes, I have found my soul mate.
Although no simple solution solves a complex problem such as mental illness, I highly accredit Riverview Hospital for setting me along the course of recovery. As I've said before, without Riverview, I would surely be dead today.
Who knows how many others will needlessly die or end up on our streets if Christy Clark fails to provide British Columbia with quality mental-health intervention and treatment facilities. Riverview fits the bill like no community residential care facility ever will.
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