In her own words: A Real Deal

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By E. Daisy Anderson

The other day, I sat in a meeting room listening as my former psychiatrists and professional mental health workers pondered ways to obtain more money for mental health programs. I shook my head, saying to myself, "They know not what they do."

For over 35 years, I was labelled “mentally ill” and endured many of the injustices which psychiatric patients face. I was a case to be managed, not a person with feelings, hopes and abilities. The medications dampened me down, dull. I lost my credibility. When I dared to say it like it was, I was deemed "difficult." It was during these episodes that I risked being bullied, ignored or given more medication. I ended up confused, believing I was the problem and constantly asking myself "What did I do wrong?"

The chief of psychiatry spoke for a third time, "I have more to say, then Daisy can have her turn." I was angry at being patronized, even if my attempts to speak were finally recognized. I spoke up and out.

I directed my message to the professionals who repeatedly said they needed patients’ stories of pain to back their pleas for funding. First, I pointed out that the major stakeholder group, those using psychiatric services, was noticeably absent. I went on to say we could help them. However, we need a voice, a voice that includes all of us. Community advocates would provide their wisdom. My message ended with “We have the answers, we know the solutions; however, we need opportunities to speak out effectively.”

I spoke assertively as those who had sidelined me over years had no choice but to sit and listen. It felt good. However, it was difficult and my thoughts vanished. Now I add the second half that I wished I had said:

We will save you health care dollars, lots. My out-of-pocket expenses to undo the psychiatric harm and regain my health were $100,000, a bargain considering the Ministry of Health spent 10 times more, that is, over one million dollars, to keep me suspended in a state of sickness. Over the years, I was prescribed more than 30 different psychiatric drugs in all kinds of combinations and doses. I was slow, confused and always fearful. This was not a life, and I frequently thought of dying. I received electric shock treatments. All my psychiatric hospitalizations were the result of serious medication effects or poor psychiatric therapy. Mid life, I collapsed and went on disability. All the standard psychiatric practices and evidence-based treatments that 18 different psychiatrists provided failed me.

Interestingly, the meeting ended without any mention of including those of us who use mental health services as equal participants in their delivery. Is this oversight an indication of power at all costs?

Now, well, happy and thriving, I research, write and work in community advocacy frequently using my story as an illustration of hope. If many of the three million Canadians labelled "psychiatric" were respected as equals, given a voice, their abilities strengthened and offered effective community inspired guidance, their health would improve. Then they would regain their rightful place as healthy, equal and valued citizens. Wellness is the real deal.

E. Daisy Anderson

E. Daisy Anderson, MSc, worked for many years as a mental health nurse. Her professional background together with her experiences as “mental health patient” are invaluable in her work as a community advocate. She lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.