Thursday, June 3, 2010

Zero Freedom is Lunacy

During my romping driving expeditions for work during the summer, I tend to listen to too much AM radio. I'm not sure if this skews my perspective on things or not as the two daytime talk radio hosts Richard Cloutier and Charles Adler often blow things out of proportion or try to make something where there is nothing, for the sake of entertainment.

The outcry that is happening currently over Vince Li receiving 15 minutes of fresh air a day has gone on for two days now.

Given that I am rather well versed in the areas of mental illnesses and am very familiar with the facilities at the Selkirk Mental Hospital, the ignorance and brashness that is voiced by people who think this man should never see the light of day is heartbreaking. I realize I shouldn't take too much offense to guest callers on AM talk radio, but the lack of information out there and complete misunderstanding of mental illness issues is astounding.

The first thing that comes to mind is that people either refuse to accept or forget that Vince Li is not some murderous monster. He has a lifelong illness that at the time of the Grehound Bus incident, was untreated.

I completely understand that people are scared of this man. Mental hospitals are not fun places. General hospitals are not fun places, but at mental hospitals you see the extreme progression of many different kinds of illnesses that you would never see on the street, or understand at all, unless you had an illness yourself or know somebody who has one.

I also completely understand the stigma that comes with mental illness, the stigma that it is not to be talked about or that it is somehow off-limits. This only purpotrates a greater misconception and supports a lack of understanding as normal. Ignorance is never bliss.

The science of mental illnesses has come a long way. As such the understanding of mental illnesses has also come along way. It was not all that long ago that people with mental illnesses were treated as guinea pigs and subject to inhumane experiments at the hands of some scientist at an insane asylum. At this point I will direct you to the history of psychiatric institutions, on Wikipedia which will give you a general oversight of the broader picture. What we know today as pharmaceutical drugs to treat mental disorders is a relatively new that has only been in place for the past 60 years and has only advanced to the point of being used effectively for perhaps 30 years.

To this day, despite abandonment of medieval style treatment methods and social exclusion, people with mental illnesses are still spoken of in a despicable manner, and all one had to do to prove so was to turn into Richard Cloutier's show recently.

Above is a painting by Vincent van Gogh, entitled At Eternity's Gate. As a side note, I am often baffled by the complete lack of the depiction of sadness or despair by modern artists. I chose this famous painting over a photograph of an old "insane asylum" because well, this one is perfect and it is difficult to find a "perfect" asylum photo.

Van Gogh would take his own life mere days after completing this painting. His last words, according to his brother, were "the sadness will last forever."

Modern facilities such as Selkirk Mental Hospital treat a wide range of patients, from depression to people who will be cared for their entire lives. This is where the most heartbreaking and sickening comments about Vince Li are those saying how he should be locked up for his entire life (see above: people refusing to accept that Li is not a murderous monster) and those saying he should remain locked up because the Selkirk grounds aren't fenced. That there should be a fence around this facility.

Such is the reason why I'm writing this post, education. The information is out there but as I said, it comes with the stigma of not being a subject that is talked about. The info is there, but goes unnoticed, unlearned, and ignored.

Putting a fence around such a wide-ranging service facility such as Selkirk is more insane than the people who live at these facilities for their entire lives are. It is not a prison.

Let me repeat that: it is not a prison.

It is a rehabilitating place, a hospital, a place for help and medicine. It houses people in all states of recovery. It is not a prison, it is not some annex of society. The mental hospital is a part of society, and a part of society that never gets seen or spoken of unless you are directly involved. Putting a fence around it, fencing everybody in and not allowing anyone to leave, with a gate and security guards, to allow people zero freedom, is lunacy itself.

We aren't talking about letting Vince Li back into normal society. For all intents and purposes, we're talking about letting him spend 23 hours and 45 minutes a day in solitary confinement, instead of 24 hours a day. We're talking about letting him see the sun for 15 minutes a day and maybe have a smoke as he listens to the birds in the 150 year old elm trees on the Selkirk grounds.

That's all I have to say...I can only hope maybe I have opened people's minds a bit or perhaps provided avenues for you to do some of your own research on these things.

I'll be tuning the AM radio out from now on. (Edit: I will now be avoiding the CBC site. The comments there are disgusting and appalling. You would think this was the 16th century in Great Britain).

Thanks for reading.


Jasonthepear1 said...

I dunno...I "get" that he's mentally ill, but I'd definitely be packing up and moving if he lived anywhere near me. In a hospital or not. Just imagining what he did, decapitating Tim McLean, then eating his ears and tongue, well it makes me sick to say the least. And even if he is making progress with his illness, I can't imagine he feels much remorse since everyone is probably insisting that it's not his fault, it's his disease. Well, alcoholism is a disease too, but do we rush out to wrap our arms around someone who gets tanked and drives drunk and ends up killing a couple of kids? No, of course not. I think people are just scared.

Anonymous said...

Jason, i don't think people are scared. i think they are angry. Look if you have a mental illness, by all means, society should help you.

But in cases like Li's, where his illness caused him to murder someone and the likelihood his illness will never be cured, i would not object to having him confined for life in an environment that isolates him from the general public.

I would grant him fresh air, but behind a fence. I would grant him visitors. I would feed and house him. I would treat him. i would give him whatever he needed but his freedom, that is something he forfeits for his own good.

If he were freed, Li would not last half a day on the streets.

Jasonthepear1 said...

The only thing I can not wrap my head around is that the defence attorneys said it was not pre-meditated. But if you think about it, if he was not planning on something, then why'd he stop his meds? Why'd he bring a BUCK KNIFE on a trip on a bus? If schizophrenia is like any other disease, then shouldn't he be held accountable for this in a criminal sense? I just think like a druggie/alcoholic gets high/drunk (willingly) and drives his/her car while high/drun (willingly) and kills some people. Isn't that the same thing as KNOWING you are mentally ill but deciding to willingly go off your meds, then WILLINGLY packing a buck knife into your bag or jacket or whatever and then going into a closed in environment like a bus. That seems kind of pre-meditated. He planned to go off his drugs knowing he was sick in the head. Now someone is viciously murdered and a family is left getting less help with their problem that Mr. Li caused. He's getting all the help here. He's getting treated. He's getting helped. What about the people who were on that bus and witnessed that little slice of hell? Are they getting help? Tim McLean's mother said on the radio that she's not getting nearly as much mental help as Li is getting. That is just wrong. It's really really wrong. The whole thing is such a horror, I don't know how anyone can really be on one side or the other. Yes, mental illness is a bad thing but I do believe that most people who have mental illness follow their doctor's advice, probably because they don't want to live in the hellish existance they do, so they take their meds and follow treatment regimens. But now, can you just imagine the horror that is Mr. McLean's mother's life? What's she getting in terms of help? Her life must be destroyed! Imagining what happened to her son. Just imagine the details of what happened, and imagine that happening to someone you love, and trying to live with that every day, every night. There has to be some way of punishing the killer, while also treating the patient. There just has to. This is one of those situations where I just think what an awful world we live in.

Graham said...

There are many people who don't take their meds. It has nothing to do with pre meditation.

The McLeans do not have an illness that requires them to live their lives on the grounds of a mental health centre. Of course they aren't getting as much mental help.

What you believe about mental illnesses, Jason, is not correct. Yes, most people follow their doctor's advice because they want to get better, however, most people are not extreme cases.

Your comments are similar to many on CBC that are along the lines of "well where's the victim's 15 minutes of freedom." I'm sorry, that doesn't cut it here. There are plenty of sane people out there who commit murders, and are granted parole or if they are under the age of 18, not get anything at all.

More to the point, there are plenty of people, like Li, who are out there right now, untreated, or potentially unaware that they even have such a serious condition. Li is where he belongs now. Living the rest of his life in that place and learning to deal with his conditions will be the story of the remainder of his days. It should not be our concern over the general public's safety because he gets 15 minutes of fresh air.

Also Jason, you may consider alcoholism a "disease," but at the end of the day, it is self inflicted. Mental illnesses, are not.

einstein said...

I agree with your assessment of the CBC site. I have always believed that Canadians are a cut above! But after reading the comments(and not just on this issue)I have to say that I am appalled at the ignorance and bigotry displayed there!! Also,does no one there ever reread their stuff before posting it? Most posts seem as though they were written by failing 3rd graders.(not that I want to insult 3rd graders)