Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Miserable Tale

Soon there will be a movie version of the classic Victor Hugo story, Les Miserables. Les Miz, the musical has launched thousands of school trips and tells a tragic tale of a man who is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed family members. Thank God this couldn't happen in real life.

What about a drama featuring a teen girl who is jailed for throwing crab apples at a postal worker?  Her undiagnosed mental illness leads her to act out in incarceration, so she has time added to her sentence, again and again. Eventually she is uncontrollable and is shunted from institution to institution, sometimes restrained and muted with duct tape. This is a tragedy which ends with the young woman dying in a prison cell while guards look on. Eighteenth-century Jean Valjean, meet twenty-first century Ashley Smith, Canadian citizen in a liberal democracy.

In recent weeks just about everyone has decried what happened to Ashley Smith from the Prime Minister, to corrections officials, to editorial writers. But Ashley is dead, and we have to wonder what has changed. On a number of occasions we have addressed mental health issues together on this blog. Some of you have first-hand knowledge of the impact of compromised mental health and you know that the institutions for the most seriously afflicted are akin to prisons from another era.

Yes, we are seeing changes through CAMH and the  societal stigmas are lifting. But Ashley's story reminds us how grim the reality can be for the mentally ill.

We have agreed that it is essential for Christian communities to respond compassionately to those with mental health issues and to lead the way. But let's be honest, we are still learning, still trying to understand.

What are your thoughts about the Ashley Smith situation? Comments about the way we address mental health issues generally, and within congregations?
Read Wake Up Call on Groundling http://groundlingearthyheavenly.blogspot.ca/


IanD said...

Your summary was quite helpful, actually, since I was only peripherally aware of this story in the press. I certainly am glad that people are slowly coming to realize the link between mental illness and behaviour.

roger said...

I cringed, really cringed, when I read about her ordeal on one flight.

This girl did not deserve to be treated this way, and it sickens me that none of the half dozen or so people who were there did nothing to stop it. And that was only the flight. Her incarceration appeared to be a similar experience.

People deserve to be treated with dignity. Period. There are still far too many mentally ill people slipping through the cracks. With mental illness affecting so many, it really is discouraging.

Stacey said...

This story hurts a lot to think about. It's one of those stories that you want to turn away from in shame, just because you can't bear to hear that someone could be treated like this. Crab apples!!!! But the reality is that people need to hear this story in order for it to affect change.

I am part of an online community that supports people on the Autism Spectrum. It is moderated by an American woman who is quite influential as a magazine editor and her own family story is a national news-maker as well. When the videos were released from Ashley's experience, this moderator made a 'rant' that went out to thousands in the group. It created quite an outrage of parents in the US who had not yet heard about this story. She had definitely stressed the fact that this girl definitely fell into the category of a child affected by a developmental or learning disability. Her rant evoked fear in parents who had children also affected by similar diagnosis (myself included), but what was just as disturbing to me, was the fact that all of the US readers were disgusted by our Canadian child and youth services and the broad brush was painted on everyone in law enforcement and correctional services. It truly is a poor picture of what's going on in Canada, from a PR perspective.

I think it's an incredible gift on the part of Ashley's mother (parents?) who has fought so hard for the videos to be released, because it must be so painful. I heard about Ashley's story over a year ago, but it did not garner the outrage it has, until the videos came to light.

janet.rice said...

No wonder the mentally ill are afraid of authority figures, knowing that they well may be misunderstood, and consequently mistreated.