Her love for a family member affected by mental illness was the catalyst for a former Kentville woman to start working to change the system.
Lianne Griffin, who is now living in Catalone, Cape Breton, started the “Help Change the Mental Health System” Facebook group in 2015.
This came around the same time Griffin stood with former provincial PC leader Jamie Baillie and other PC MLA’s in the lobby of Province House to call on Premier Stephen McNeil to launch an inquiry into the mental health system.
Griffin said government must realize that there is a crisis and act. After almost four years, she doesn’t believe that a lot has changed systemically. Griffin said it’s a much different experience hearing about the problems than it is living with them and there is still much more to be done.
“There are just so many issues out there and so many people have similar stories,” Griffin said.
She thinks more group homes or small options homes would help, although she isn’t sure that this would be the answer for people like her brother.
Griffin’s initiatives came about because of her experiences with her brother, Matthew MacKinnon, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 26. This opened her eyes to the struggles facing those in need of help and their family members.
“How many people out there have it?” Griffin said. “I myself suffer from anxiety and I have a mild depression. I know if I don’t take my medication every day, I just feel off, I have really bad down days and it’s not easy.”
Knowing how difficult it is for her helps put into perspective how hard it is for other people dealing with more severe forms of mental illness, such as her brother, to cope. She said there are many people who have given up trying to help loved ones. In cases like this, the person in need of help often ends up homeless or “they’re not here anymore.”
She said her brother “basically just exists” today. He can’t work anymore and he goes back and forth between staying with Griffin and their mother.
There have been many instances with him involving the police. Griffin said police do their best but in some cases they probably aren’t educated enough when it comes to dealing with people with severe mental health challenges.
When it comes to people such as her brother, taking them to the hospital and dropping them off to be released a short time later isn’t enough.
“He gets paranoid, he thinks people are always after people. My brother is not a violent man,” she said.
Griffin said it can be difficult getting help and there seems to be an attitude within the health care system that if you’re being medicated, you’re getting the help you need. Griffin said this isn’t necessarily the case.
After discovering that he hadn’t been taking his prescribed oral medication because he claimed to feel better without it, they got him switched over to a different type that can be given with a needle every three weeks. This has helped make him more stable but he still isn’t the person she used to know.
“He just isn’t who he once was and we’ll never get that person back. That’s probably one of the hardest things to accept as a family member,” Griffin said.
REACHING OUT ON FACEBOOK
The “Help Change the Mental Health System” Facebook page attracted more than 1,500 members in the first few weeks after Griffin launched it almost four years ago. Griffin, Jackie Hulme and Rochelle Restoule are the group administrators.
Griffin said the group has seen more articles and memes being shared than personal stories as of late but she would like to see a shift back toward its original intent: to be a forum for people facing or being affected by mental health challenges to share their personal stories and experiences, like an online support group.
If members don’t want to be identified, they share their experiences with Griffin on an anonymous basis and she shares them with the group. She said that although they shouldn’t be, some people are ashamed to talk about it or to be known for it. However, mental health problems affect people from all walks of life.
Although the genesis of the Facebook group was a sense of frustration with the mental health system, the purpose is to try to affect positive change.
Griffin said that she has found a lot of the stories that have been shared with her “shocking.” She has been touched and moved by those who have told her about loved ones who lost their battles with mental illness.
She said it’s sad to hear from so many people who begged for help for their loved ones but, because their loved ones resisted or refused, healthcare providers were unable or unwilling to intervene.
“People have to be more aware of that, that they have to stand their ground and stand up for what they believe in,” Griffin said.
For more information, visit the Help Change the Mental Health System Facebook support group page.