Mental illness or mental difference

By Pat Watson Thursday July 10 2014 in Opinion
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By PAT WATSON

 

There is no grief that can compare to that hanging onto the very being of a parent whose child has died. No mother who has gone through the remarkable experience of bringing a life into this world wants to have to go through the numbing sadness of escorting the coffin containing the body of that child regardless of the child’s age.

 

But this is not just about the loss that a family endures. This is also about the loss that a whole community experiences when a member is suddenly ripped from the fold.

 

It is remarkable how many people knew Adrian Worrell. Born in Canada of a Barbadian family, Adrian grew up and lived in Scarborough. Those who knew him recall him as having a vast appetite for learning and sharing. He was a teacher, having worked with students both in elementary and high school. Adrian wrote a book of poetry, Neotony. He self-produced and recorded rap albums. He volunteered with enthusiasm, winning the praise of the youth he helped and the parents who appreciated his efforts and his sincerity. He was part of a team on-air at CIUT radio station with the Vibe Collective in the early evening on Saturdays. And, he was prolific on social media. He was, they say, never idle.

 

With all of that, what made this man stand out for so many was that he had a wonderfully unique and enlightened way of viewing life. He questioned, for instance, when we as a community of people would begin to live within and among ourselves without being bound to reactions to those outside the community who insist on defining us. He had a vision that would have us understand and define ourselves away from any oppressive manipulation related to the dominant group.

 

Another remarkable characteristic he possessed, which was also immediately apparent, is that even if he disagreed with another person’s point of view, he would engage with that person respectfully and without resentment over those differences. Otherwise, he would respond that he hadn’t considered that point of view before.

 

One other important aspect of Adrian’s life is that he lived with a condition that made him at times energetically prolific and enlightened. At other times the condition presented an opposite and despondent effect. It was this condition that punctuated his life so that he ended it tragically at age 38. The grief at the way he ended his life was too great to allow those who knew him best to even name it.

 

The loss to us of that life and so many bright lights like Adrian comes from loss of knowing how ancestors would have historically responded to those individuals. The notion of being possessed by spirits is an old one, and for a time was met with fear, certainly without understanding. But, looking further back it would have been with a grasp of the particular state of awareness they were experiencing.

 

Modern western medical response for people with conditions we identify as mental illness or mental disorders involves dampening these conditions through the use of neuroleptic or antidepressant drugs. These drugs can be very expensive, but it seems that it is more cost effective and expedient than to develop a model in which people acquire the skills for living good lives with their condition. Moreover, the medication solution comes with side effects that are sometimes irreversible. The treatment can be just as bad if not at times worse than the condition. The challenge of customizing drug therapy to an individual can be horrendous. Ask anyone who has endured the process.

It is well past time for those in the mental health field to start listening to the people who are living with these various conditions of depression, manic-depressive illness and schizophrenia. Such people, as the old saw goes, may have a disordered condition but they are not stupid. They must have a say in how they are to cope with their condition and a say in how best to develop the skills to manage it. There has to be an answer that does not rely so heavily on just doping them up, because their personal loss and the loss of their insights that are taken away when these drugs are introduced is also our loss.

A note on festival season…

It’s that time of year again. People are buying costumes and getting ready for the Toronto version of playing mas.

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