Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. In 2014, Parliament and the Canadian War Memorial were the sites of a terrorist attack.
(Canadian Press - Sean Kilpatrick)

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. In 2014, Parliament and the Canadian War Memorial were the sites of a terrorist attack. (Canadian Press - Sean Kilpatrick)

Shouting it out loud: You can’t wish away addiction and mental illness

Who is John Vassilaki to say what is ‘normal’?

In the midst of the ongoing feud between Penticton council and BC Housing, something Mayor John Vassilaki said struck me.

It wasn’t anything directly about the closure of the Victory Church shelter.

More, it was his words about how the money going to the shelter could be better spent, funding a mental institution that was closed more than eight years ago because it was out of date, and sending people in our community who need help down to the Lower Mainland.

“Maybe they could get rid of their addictions and their mental illness, and make them somewhat normal, so they could live a better life,” said Vassilaki during a council meeting March 16.

That sentiment – those words – have no place coming from anyone’s mouth in 2021, let alone from an elected government official.

Let’s get something straight. You do not ‘get rid’ of a mental illness. You do not ‘get rid’ of an addiction.

What you can do, is learn to live with your illness and to manage it – like diabetes or Parkinson’s, or any other disease.

An addict can stop drinking or taking drugs, but they will always have a dependence – their brains and bodies are rewired forever. All they can do is learn to live with their addiction.

People now learn to ‘manage’ their addictions and their mental illnesses, because our understanding has grown and evolved beyond the thought that we can simply wish it away.

There is another aspect of the mayor’s words that I find distasteful, and that is that by magically removing someone’s mental illness or addiction, that they will be made “somewhat normal.”

What is this ‘normal’?

There is no such thing for every individual, and to say that because of something out of your control, you no longer fit that nebulous concept, is simply astounding.

Making people ‘normal’ has been the justification behind centuries of harsh treatment, and even until recently, was used as a justification for horrific ‘conversion therapies’ for people who were homosexual, because that wasn’t ‘normal.’

Modern society, science and medicine have long left that way of thinking behind.

It’s no longer a binary of ‘normal’ or ‘not-normal’, everyone falls somewhere on a scale.

Get rid of their mental illness and make them somewhat normal.

That sentiment may have been acceptable 30 or 40 years ago, but it must be left where it belongs – in the past.

Not a single councillor called out the mayor on his words.

No statement or even acknowledgment of his utterances have been made.

When people talk about the stigma around mental health, illness and addiction, they are probably thinking along lines similar to the mayor’s – just get rid of these mental illnesses?

If those words had come out of the mouth of an MP, or even an MLA, there would be calls to apologize and resign. Words matter.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I know several people on the Autistic Spectrum who in the past would have been considered ‘not normal’ and because of that likely wouldn’t have been able to get a job, or live with any independence.

Yet, the world has moved on.

The mayor and council are the people elected to lead the city, and are in theory, a reflection of the people they serve.

A suggestion: Look in the mirror and ask, what do I see…and what do I want to see?

Brennan Phillips is a journalist with Black Press Media.

Column

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sicamous Council approved a development permit for a new mobile home park on Hillier road on Wednesday, April 14. (Jim Elliot- Eagle Valley News)
Sicamous council approves development of 35 unit mobile home park

The new development will be located on Hillier Road

John Gibson has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help care for his father Stephen McCrae-Gibson, who suffered a stroke in February and had to undergo surgery to remove a blood clot near his brain. (Contributed)
Long road ahead for Salmon Arm man recovering after stroke

Son launches GoFundMe campaign to help prepare for father’s return and rehabilitation

(Photo: pixabay.com)
Morning Start: More human twins are being born now than ever before

Your morning start for Friday, April 16, 2021

Twin sisters Kyla, left, and Jordyn Bear have accepted scholarships to play at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York for this upcoming fall. The 17-year-olds dream of playing together for Canada in the Olympics one day. (Jesse Johnston/CP photo)
Lake Country twins inspire Indigenous hockey players

Grade 12 George Elliot Secondary students Kyla and Jordyn Bear earn hockey scholarships at NCAA Division 1 school

The Rotary Club of Salmon Arm-Shuswap will be planting oak trees at Canoe Beach Park. (File photo)
Rotary to green up Canoe Beach Park for Earth Day

Local club plans to plant oak trees to replace danger trees

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The Columbia Valley Wetlands are known for their extensive and fragile ecosystem. (File photo)
Wildsight speaks out against logging in Columbia Wetlands

Located 50 kms south of Golden, the proposed operation was justified as bark beetle management

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
The Vernon Pickleball Association spotlights member Don Friesen ahead of National Volunteer Week (April 18-24, 2021). (Vernon Pickleball Association)
Volunteer praised by Vernon pickleballers

Marshall Field pickleball complex wouldn’t be possible without dedicated volunteer hours: VPA

Eight-year-old Piper and her family were raising money to help Guinevere, the bearded dragon, get a gynecological surgery. Sadly, the reptile didn’t survive the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Lizard fails to survive surgery, GoFundMe dollars help Langley family offset medical bills

Guinevere, a pet bearded dragon, underwent an ovariectomy on Tuesday

A driver stopped by Saanich police following a road rage incident on April 15 was found to be impaired, in violation of a license restriction and in a damaged vehicle. They received a 90-day driving prohibition and a 30-day vehicle impound. (Saanich Police Traffic Safety Unit/Twitter)
Road rager fails breathalyzer on busy B.C. highway in vehicle he shouldn’t be driving

Saanich police say man was operating vehicle without required ignition lock

Vernon Secondary School students walked in Friday, April 16, 2021, to a lawn full of plastic cutlery in a grad prank. (Debra Ann Large - Vernon & Area Community Forum)
Plastic cutlery aerates Vernon high school’s lawn in grad prank

Grad pranksters get an early start this year with unusual plastic prank

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier John Horgan booked to get AstraZeneca shot Friday

‘Let’s show all British Columbians that the best vaccine is the one that’s available to you now,’ he said

Most Read