Taxing the Disabled
I am a person with a non-visible disability. I present well, until you ask me to speak; then, I sound like an 18 year-old. That’s because, at 18, I became very ill with the prodromal phase of schizophrenia. It has been as crippling up to today as it has been pervasive. Everything from simple chores to the complexities of relationships – and all things in between – are affected. This includes working. With short-term memory loss, lack of organization, the inability to plan for, or foresee possible consequences in, the future; and the inability for both decision-making and impulse control—all contribute to a demise in daily functioning. It also worsens as one ages. My psychiatrist used to say that as I would grow older, I would become more and more motionless and mute – simply staring at walls all day if I didn’t have a TV or Internet connection. Personally, I don’t ask for very much. I don’t smoke, nor drink, nor do drugs. I don’t dress fashionably, nor gamble. I don’t do Vegas nor go on annual vacations. I pay my rent and bills on time. I have given back to the community through 30 years of volunteering, and help out my elderly family members as they have been caring for me. But the illness imposes cruel limitations.
Statistically, 1 in 4 of the general population are mentally ill. This might not seem like a big deal to you. Just wait. It gets worse.
When we ask why we, those on disability benefits, can’t get a raise that reflects inflation and the high cost of living in BC, we’re told repeatedly we’re expected to work.
When we approach employers with our resumes, we’re questioned about the holes in our resumes and just exactly what disability we have. They’re not allowed to ask this, but they do, anyway. And, when we tell them the truth that we have mental illness, they show us the door. Literally. They used to ask right on the application form if we have ever been hospitalized and what for. Now they’re not allowed that, but they take a different route to the same, insistent, discriminatory question.
So, then, seeing our desperation, someone along the way recommends vocational rehab for the mentally ill. These are “non-profit” organizations who get paid at least $5,000 from our provincial government for each “client” who signs up with them. Whether or not we get jobs at the end or have to repeat the course is a matter of indifference to them (another failed client is potentially a repeat customer, and means another $5000 in the organization’s coffers). They have been known for not graduating the bulk of their “clients” onwards towards jobs, and for making many of us clients believe, if we just come for the fourth time ( that’s $20,000 per head) to the same program, we may make it, this time. Non-profit job rehabs in BC are a revolving-door industry for organizations capitalizing on the chronic desperation, innate confusion and eternal hopefulness of some of BC’s most vulnerable of citizens. Meanwhile, the bottom line is that we’re jobless after finishing months or years of “job rehab” sessions, and no closer to working than before.
In 2016, the then-in-power BC Liberals (now rebranded as the BC United) with Christy Clarke as then-Premier, taxed the disabled for transportation although, ostensibly, the BC Liberals want to pseudo-heroically lift the 9-year freeze on our rates. The then-BC Liberal Christy Clarke required two terms for her to sell her pitch again to maybe make mental illness a “disability” (which she never did do) as she had promised it over and over while campaigning. She appeared to have further transgressed by raising the 9-year freeze on disability payments to an increase of $77 minus $52 in claw-back so that disabled people would have to pay for their own public transportation. While it didn’t bother me to have to pay for the transportation, $25 monthly more was too little to counteract the rising cost of living. It was a slap in the face, and saying we were stupid and worthless, perennially powerless, while we were already downtrodden by legislated poverty, stigma, and illness. And what had the provincial Liberal premier done in terms of personal transportation during her career in office? Apparently, Ms. Clarke charged taxpayers for personal use of airflights for family vacations, justified it, and stayed in office.
I think the BC Liberal government was betting on the likelihood that mentally-ill persons are too disorganized and chemically lobotomized to contribute anything meaningful to the civic and cultural dialogue, or to vote them out of office.
Nearly a decade later Kevin Falcon—nascent leader of the BC Liberals or BC United—has emerged to take BC by the helm. How? By reopening the dilapidated Riverview hospital that had held in its day the many thousands of psychiatric patients who came and went. Perhaps rather successfully, you might say. But let’s not take the context of one era and drag into today’s era. We are a province that likes to brag of having both the richest and the poorest postal codes in Canada’s vast country. We like the good life. We like pretty and shiny things. And everyone one of us inclusively worries about money. If we weren’t to, we’d be pretty stupid. Hence, we have all become the political animal that the Ancient Greek philosophers assumed we were. Without the right political party for you exclusively, you won’t get paid.
But, you see, he wants to RE-open Riverview hospital. He means he’s going to patch it up a bit and throw whomever is refractory, troublemaking, criminal, or substance-using psychiatrically compromised person that can’t otherwise fit into society there. Convenient. Especially given that historically conscientious-objecting, pacifists Mennonites who wouldn’t fight in wartime were kept in psychiatric facilities. They were labelled schizophrenic. Other dictatorial countries have done likewise in exactly the same verbiage. If you object conscientiously, you are “schizophrenic”. And as we all assume, and as culture rhetoric waxes almost poetically on this, the paranoid schizophrenic is the worst kind of the mentally ill—straight up bottom feeders. They are to be pitied and placed in a setting where they’d not be a danger to themselves or others. But this is a dangerous precedent. It is done in the same spirit as the sheriff of some state county who upon encountering an unmedicated schizophrenic boy (because psych meds are expensive and not covered in the United States) said, “I don’t have time for this,” …and fatally shot a handcuffed boy in the back of the head. He had no time for him. He had no time for him. He had no time for him.
What are we to make of the BC Liberals/United? First of all, there are only three kinds of people. The first group wants to bury their heads in the sand and pretend like the mentally ill don’t exist. The second want to help the mentally ill live their best lives like the rest of us. The third group is pernicious: they persecute, slander, and scapegoat the most vulnerable of mental patients. They say they will do this, and then that they would have had it not been for the previous administration. They have no clear, actionable plan, and no political will to carry through. They just want to warehouse undesirables and then less metaphorically “shut the door, throw away the key,” Make BC a better playground for those who will afford it, for themselves, and their kids.
While the majority of us mentally ill do not and will not resort to arms and violence, living our lives in quiet fear and desperation, without privilege and sometimes resorting to self-sabotaging behaviours like drinking, smoking, etc., we do have to some extent retrained our cognition to survive the otherwise horrible ride we’re given called Life’s Short End of The Stick. But believe you me that your kids may also get the disease of mental illness and you will be fighting like hell fighters to get them help. Too late. Medicine under right of center government may make medicine financially unavailable for the uninsured. Higher education will close its doors on them. Employers will not hire them. There may even be no pension if Pollieve also comes into power or if Falcon goes the way of Bill Vanderzam. I’m any case, a psychotic is a psychotic is a psychotic. Rich or poor families inclusively will have to deal with kids who have only a tenuous grasp of reality. They will be so unconsciously honest the family must put them away. So, once the family’s resources are drained, the child or adult child is destined for Riverview.
I’m not saying what we have now in the province is anything close to ideal. It is not. What I am saying is that politicians of any stripe must do more for the mentally ill than they promise. Have a clear map and plan. Stages of development. End goal of treatment. What do they expect to see by reopening Riverview? Or is that a rhetorical ploy to power? Building more jails and hospitals for mental health inmates? It begs the question of how much politicians not only care but also understand of the plight of the mentally ill. That is if they have the political will and brain capacity read up on the many different types of mental illnesses such as bipolar, depression, generalized anxiety, pMDD, CPTSD, and things not commonly viewed as severe like dysthymia or malcontent and malaise.
Yes, there are many competing issues in this world. The only way to eliminate this one is to attack it compassionately. And passionately. If you care, and don’t have the means to support research into finding treatments or cure, lend us your voice. Tell the government incumbent or otherwise that smokescreens and personal ignorance or incompetence are not going to win us over. If you want to reduce the crimes you blame us for, look at making and keeping all pharmaceutical and orthomolecular drugs, vitamins, treatments, healthcare free or at least affordable (whatever affordable means today). Build relationships. Build truly affordable housing. Create space and employment for the mentally ill. Give them a reason to live so they don’t fall into dangerous and addictive substances as a way of self-medicating. Follow up on them.
You see, there’s a lot of talk and patchwork.
We need to ask each patient what they need and what they want out of life. The Dutch did well with that. They role model the capitalist life that we mouth about on but never do. Make no mistake: If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
©️Veek Young 2017-2023 All Rights Reserved
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