Sunday, August 28, 2011

Re: The lost, beautiful mind of Ivan Car, Aug. 21.

A letter to the editor published in yesterday's edition of the Ottawa Citizen:
After reading this article, I wish first to offer thanks to Anouk MontpetitCar for sharing her story about her husband Ivan Car's [pictured] struggles with depression - a battle he fought bravely but sadly lost.

Car's story is more common than one might think - and so often, these kinds of stories go untold and unnoticed. By sharing her husband's story with Citizen readers, MontpetitCar has not only provided a glimpse into what is a severe, chronic and disabling illness, but also the frustrations that someone with mental illness faces in seeking appropriate treatment as quickly as possible.

As with any other severe, chronic and disabling illness, quick response, expertise and ongoing care are all necessary if one is to recover. Unfortunately, it appears that by the time Car decided to seek the services offered at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, it was too late; he was too tired to face what lay ahead.

Perhaps he would have received the proper care and treatment if the waiting lists for psychiatric treatment at mental health facilities weren't so very long and if the Ministry of Health hadn't decided over 10 years ago that psychiatric emergency services should only be provided at local hospitals that have certain emergency-room capabilities. (An exception was made for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, which still operates emergency services at the Clarke Institute on College Street.)

Because of this government decision, the Royal - which has obvious expertise in mental health - was forced to close its emergency services department in 2000. Former patients of the Royal speak fondly of the empathetic, caring environment and expert care received at the emergency room prior to this forced closure.

I and many other families I know have experienced the extreme difficulties of sitting for hours in a hospital emergency waiting room with a severely ill loved one who is in immediate need of psychiatric services. Often, very sick people never receive psychiatric services because, due to their illness, they are unable to wait and are unlikely to return, no matter how severe the symptoms.

There are real practical benefits to receiving emergency service at a mental health centre as opposed to an emergency room geared to treating fevers and broken bones. When someone is suffering from mental illness, it is imperative that appropriate mental health care begin at the first encounter between the health provider and the client. It can make the difference between success and failure.

Given the recent discussions about "client-centred" care, it is incumbent that two things happen - that the wait list for psychiatric services be addressed and that emergency services be returned to the Royal where specialized, therapeutic care goes beyond dispensing of medication.

Cynthia Clark, Ottawa Chair, Family Advisory Council, ROMHC
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