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I tossed her collar on the seat next to me. The tags clinked together, and for the briefest moment, the part of me deeper than logic believed she was there.

How many car rides have we taken together? My Pavlovian response to the sound of the tags wanted to believe this ride was the same.

It was too early to go home. The sun had not fully risen yet. It was too early to walk through the front door without her. So we went to the water, her spirit-still-alive and I.

This was our stormy place, our late night thunder showers and whipping winds screaming place. This was where I could let my emotions rage with the storm.

But this morning, oh how different. I’ve never seen the water so silent. How far could I see and still make out the stone shapes on the lake bottom. No wind. No ripples. Clear glass water.

The sun rose and with it, her spirit, high into the daybright sky. I returned home and placed her collar, her red bandana, and her favourite rubber bone into a shoebox under my bed.

Picture 187

Loving Sasha
September 1998 – January 2010

I feel mixed about #BellLetsTalk today. Is it a start? Yes. Is it enough? Hardly.

We need a lot more than just talk. We need practical ways to support one another through times of crisis. We need to teach people emotional coping skills (preferably as children). We need actual answers to why our brains sometimes go off kilter. We need medication that isn’t just a guessing game and that so often comes with heavy negative side effects.

I’m not the only one I know who feels frustrated hearing “if you feel suicidal, reach out and talk to someone.” Friends and family can only do so much and find it very frightening and overwhelming. And crisis lines and emergency psychiatric services aren’t much better. Generally you get held until the intensity of the moment passes and you’re sent home, maybe to follow up with your GP. You’re alive, yes, but the root of the problem hasn’t gone anywhere and you might be less likely to reach out next time if you feel there is no hope of actually feeling differently, not just being forced to stay safe.

There isn’t a whole lot that can be done to get to the root of why some people feel suicidal so often (or even just occasionally) unless we have more funding for research and adequate treatment. Far too many people are given 6-8 weeks with a therapist or psychiatrist and that just doesn’t cut it.

The wait list for DBT (the recommended treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder) in Hamilton is now over a year long. And while DBT services are expanding, its not nearly quick enough for the number of people being diagnosed and referred to the treatment. It is available in just a handful of cities, meaning hundreds if not thousands of people who would benefit don’t even get a chance. For someone who is acutely in crisis, suicidal, impulsive, behaving dangerously and feels like life is intolerable this is NOT acceptable. We need funding, and that doesn’t come from just talking about mental illness.

Bell Let’s Talk seems to focus on anxiety and depression. Yes, we need to talk about those – but we also need better understanding of schizophrenia, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and so many more. And we need to understand the complexities of mental illness, abuse, addiction, poverty, gender and race. It’s not just rich white people who struggle. And far too often the people who need treatment the most can’t afford the costly private services available and have to wait on the long waitlists.

I am so grateful to have what many others don’t – a support system I can fall back on, a net to catch me when I need it. And the resources to pay for the treatment I need (with the support of my family). What about those who don’t have either of these things? How can we expect them to reach out if we’re not reaching back?

Ultimately, awareness campaigns like Bell’s leave me desperate for so much more. My friend Kathleen said it best, “No one should have to bombard social media with free advertising for a corporation to get basic health care from our government.” Mental health care is basic health care and we need to start providing better services now, and that takes more than just talk.

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