Jane Seyd's two-part Sunday Focus series, The Bridge's Long Shadow and The Bridge's Heavy Burden (Dec. 1 and 8, North Shore News) is a crucial call-to-action for the installation of high barriers or netting on the Lions Gate Bridge to help prevent suicide.
But out of this arises another serious issue - the need, as a society, to address mental illness and to be proactive in getting people who are ill into treatment as early as possible. While a physical barrier on the bridge may prevent or stop someone's fall, it does not treat the underlying causes of the person's suicidal ideation, which brought them there in the first place.
Suicide, by its very nature, is unpredictable. The only way to properly address the high rate of suicide among those with mental illness is to adequately treat the underlying illness itself. Those with a severe mental illness who are decompensating or experiencing psychosis must first be treated in hospital in order to stabilize.
Unfortunately, half of those with schizophrenia and a slightly lesser percentage of those who are bipolar 1 lack insight into their illness, a clinical feature called anosognosia, and don't realize they are ill. Because of this, they are unlikely to seek treatment themselves. In these cases, involuntary admission is required.
Many people, including some mental health professionals, mistakenly believe an ill person must be considered "dangerous" to be admitted involuntarily into hospital, but this is not the case.
The criterion for involuntary admission, under the B.C. Mental Health Act, is "to prevent the person's substantial mental or physical deterioration or for the person's own protection or protection of others." This provision allows for a proactive use of involuntary admission, where appropriate, which can help prevent tragedies such as suicide.
The need to get people into treatment when they're ill, rather than guessing whether they're going to commit suicide or not, mustn't be forgotten.
Another measure is also important. Many communities have a mobile, urgent-outreach team in place that travels directly to where the ill person is living to do a preliminary assessment and, where it makes sense, call in a psychiatrist who can then sign a first certificate. This gets the person into hospital. A family living in Vancouver, Richmond, or Surrey, dealing with someone in crisis, has this option.
However, the North Shore currently does not offer any form of urgent outreach. This, too, has long been a concern for us.
If anyone would like more information on these issues, or if you are a family member needing help, please call our Family Support Centre at 604-926-0856.
Cheryl Zipper, president, North Shore Schizophrenia Society