In a poignant experiences, a Montreal-based physician reveals the tragic tale of her late brother’s struggle with untended mental health issues, further unmasking the inadequacies of health system in Quebec, as experts identify the surging barriers to entry in psychological care. Exacerbated by pandemic-induced stress, the cries for help are apparently falling on deaf ears as wait time for mental health services has escalated in recent times, leaving more people grappling with undiagnosed mental conditions.
Her deceased brother, Dan Shiff, was painted in the strokes of immense intelligence and unquenchable vibrancy. An adventurous soul who loved riding motorcycles as much as he relished travelling, and even held a pilot’s license, Dan seemed like the embodiment of life’s zest. Nevertheless, his individual battles with severe depression and addiction lay hidden beneath this vivacious exterior, reaching a point where he started harboring suicidal thoughts. Under the care of a psychiatrist, Dan’s condition deteriorated enough to necessitate checking into a psychiatry ward.
Arriving at an overcrowded emergency room in Montreal in the dawn of April, Dan’s hopes of timely treatment were dashed by the dearth of available beds in the psychiatry unit, leaving him languishing in the emergency section for a disheartening span of two weeks. Tumbled into despair, he released himself from the hospital claiming to have overcome his suicidal tendencies. A spiralling narrative concluded on a tragic note as he succumbed to suicide only three days later, at the age of 49.
Highlighting the grim repercussions of insufficient mental health support systems, psychologist Dr. Perry Adler points at the rampant mental health issues stemming from the worldwide pandemic, and critiques Quebec’s health system for its failing attempts to cope. A steep rise in waiting periods for mental health treatment following specialist consultations has been recorded over the last year, with the median wait time doubling from three months to six. The longest wait in the nation, Adler points a finger at consecutive governments for their gross underfunding of mental health services in the province for decades.
Even as federal data reveals one in ten Canadians are likely to experience suicidal thoughts during their lifetime, the prevailing stigma against seeking mental health help prevents many from reaching out. Adler encourages individuals to cast aside notions of weakness and to view seeking help as a testament of their strength.
As untended mental health issues find expression in troubling behaviors such as emotional withdrawal, loss of apetite, and apparent attempts to find closure, Adler emphasizes the role of friends and family in observing signs and urging their loved ones to seek professional help. Likewise, psychotherapist Corrie Sirota calls upon everyone to ask the hard-hitting, honest questions around suicidal thoughts, dispelling the notion of ‘planting the seed in their head’.
In shifting perceptions about suicide as a choice and viewing it as a symptom of an insidious mental health condition akin to a tumour, paralysis, or a heart attack. Adler champions this idea by recounting how the rabbi at her brother’s funeral rightly declared his cause of death as a “heart attack of the brain,” enkindling a change in outlook towards mental health diseases.