If you’re not a Canadian, this topic might be a little foreign to you, so I’m going to break it down. Bell Canada is a telecommunications company operating in the Great White North. A few years ago, they started their “Let’s Talk” campaign, which is designed to bring mental health to the forefront of conversation. The campaign takes place at the beginning of the year, and if you are a Canadian citizen, you start to see commercials like these.
Micheal Landsberg is a famous Canadian sports guy.
Howie Mandel is a famous Canadian game show host.
I’m not sure who this is. But she’s probably Canadian.
Bringing up the stigma of mental health issues is a tough one, and I commend Bell for trying to bring this into the public arena. The other day, though, a friend of mine brought up a very important piece of the mental health puzzle faced here in Canada. Specifically, he brought up this guy.
(Photo: The Canadian Press)
This is Will Baker, formally known as Vincent Li. On July 30th, 2008, he decapitated a fellow passenger, Tim McLean, on a Greyhound bus traveling to Winnipeg. After cutting off his head, he began to cannibalize parts of the young man. As of the writing of this post, Will is living alone, under supervision, in Winnipeg. Will is asking for an absolute discharge, which would grant him total freedom. Currently, his case is being reviewed by the Crown.
Will Baker was found not criminally responsible (NCR) for his actions, as he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. At the time of the killing, he heard the ‘Voice of God’ tell him to kill the young man or die himself.
Every January, Facebook fills with stories about people wanting to open up and share their own experiences with mental health. I hear from folks about eating disordered, anxiety attacks, depression. It’s both incredibly brave and important because it strips away the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Understand I’m not here to disparage any form of mental disorder. Depression, anxiety, these are real conditions that affect thousands of Canadians every year. It’s important we talk about them. The problem is Bell using these conditions as the face of mental health issues. While Bell is more than happy to hire successful spokespeople to talk about their struggles and how they overcame them, like the videos posted above, they tend to go quiet about subjects like Mr. Baker.
The conversation changes in tone when we bring up people who’ve committed violent acts while suffering a mental disorder. It slides from sharing videos like these on Twitter, all the way down to locking a person up and throwing away the key. People want to have a conversation about mental health when it’s told by photogenic actors, but the conversation stops when it’s discussing cases like the killing of Tim McLean, or the Calgary Stabbings, where five people were killed at a house party by someone claiming aliens were talking to him.
I’m going to relate my own story here. I spent some time in Golden in the spring of 2015, a few months. It was enough time to meet some of the towns more interesting folks. There was one person, in particular, who stood out. We’ll call him Greg. Now, Greg went to the library a lot. I was at the library every once and a while, as my mom works there. Greg made me pretty uncomfortable because Greg talked to ghosts. I asked some of the other people in town about Greg, including my mom. “He’s harmless,” I was told “and the truth is, we can’t really do anything about him.” And it’s completely true, even though it was clear that Greg was obviously suffering from some sort of mental disorder, there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. The police couldn’t do anything, as he hadn’t broken any laws. And there’s no facility in a small place like Golden that could have intervened.
Greg made me uncomfortable for another reason. While he seemed friendly enough to other people, the ghosts had beef with me and were letting Greg know. Once, when I was leaving the library, Greg was standing outside. I said hello, and he replied with “They’re saying you’re very dangerous. I don’t like dangerous people.” He also said this while looking right through me with the classic ‘thousand yard stare’. Not long after, he moved somewhere else, somewhere in northern BC.
I’m telling this story because even though it was clear society had a person suffering from head problems on their hands, there was no protocol in place to deal with him. That’s a glaring issue, one that Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign doesn’t address. What would have happened had the ghosts decided I was threat? What would have happened if Greg acted upon the ghosts suggestions?
Bell did raise 6.5 million dollars for mental health, which is a win. But, if we want to get serious about mental health, we need to do more than just talk about it. We need to start addressing it. Not just addressing what we do with violent patients after they’ve recovered and have been treated, but how to prevent them from becoming violent in the first place. The last thing I want to hear about is a man named Greg committing an act of violence in northern BC, because ghosts were telling him space pirates were coming to get him.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton