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shelter could be better spent, funding a mental institution that was closed more than eight years ago because it was out of date, and sending people in our community who need help down to the Lower Mainland.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

The Town of Oliver is lobbying for funds to fix part of an irrigation system damaged by a rock slide last year that would have a huge impact on farmers and the entire region. File photo
Province to finish funding for Oliver irrigation system repairs

The irrigation system was damaged after a rockslide in 2016

The Vees are on their fourth straight win as they head into game five of Pod Season on Sunday. (Cheri Morgan Photography)
Penticton Vees keep winning streak alive with 5-3 win

The Vees are now 4-0 to start the BCHL pod season

Penticton Christian School. (Facebook)
COVID-19 exposure at Penticton independent school

The exposures are the latest in a quickly growing list in the Interior

Participants are encouraged to light a candle and watch the streamed event from home as speakers honor the lives of those lost to overdose from Gyro Bandshell in Penticton April 14, 2021. (Facebook photo)
Vigil for 5th anniversary of B.C. overdose crisis to be held in Penticton

To honor the lives lost to the overdose crisis and bring a call of action to policymakers

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen will speed up the process for hospitality businesses looking to set up patios during the latest COVID-19 restrictions. Under the most recent restrictions, indoor dining is prohibited, but patio dining is allowed. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen speeds up patio permit approval

Initiative to help hospitality businesses affected by latest COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.[CDC]
More COVID-19 exposures reported at schools in Kelowna

Interior Health added additional schools and dates to their list of exposures

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Sun Peaks is tracking rising COVID-19 cases. (Kamloops This Week Photo)
Sun Peaks sees spike in COVID-19 cases at end of ski season

On April 9, there were 15 positive cases confirmed.

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Most Read