Series explores living with mental illness

Introducing, a four-part series on living with mental illness in Chilliwack.

Mental illness is the last frontier. Society has become relatively open about physical disabilities. It’s becoming open about developmental disabilities. But it’s rare that someone admits they have severe depression. Or bipolar disorder. Or paranoid schizophrenia.

Chilliwack is home to thousands of people who struggle with their mental health, who are captured by the involuntary twists and turns of their restless minds. What’s key is separating the person from the illness.

As Eric Hunken, a man with bipolar and borderline personality disorder in Chilliwack, said: “It’s just an illness, and it’s not our whole life. It’s just something that affects our life.”

Support structures for people battling various mental illnesses are notably few in Chilliwack. The handful of psychiatrists have hundreds of patients each; the few case workers at the mental health unit have a total of about 900 clients. There are no open support groups, and a lot of stigma.

Chances are, you know someone who is struggling. Statistics would suggest that 8,500 people in Chilliwack have depression (that’s 1 in 10); 2,210 have bipolar disorder; 850 have schizophrenia.

As adults try to recover, the reality is that chronic poverty haunts people with a mental illness in our community. It is difficult to hold down a job, and decent housing is hard to find on the governmental $906 a month persons with disabilities allowance. Family and friends can also fall away when one admits their mental health isn’t stable.

The result is that people with mental illness generally keep it to themselves. And when their symptoms and the realities of making ends meet overpower them, they tilt toward the fringes of Chilliwack society. You might see them on the street, or in emergency shelters. They might purchase drugs, or make desperate calls to the police.

In this four-part series, you’ll get to know several people living with mental illness in Chilliwack, and how they balance their recovery with the harsh realities of modern life. Join us over the coming weeks as we explore the issues of housing, employment, social structures, and criminality as they relate to the mentally ill.

Read Part 1: Affordable housing key for mental health

Read Part 2: Employment does wonders for local welder

Read Part 3: Battling bias on the road to recovery

Read Part 4: Managing mental illness: When storm clouds gather