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shelter could be better spent, funding a mental institution that was closed more than eight years ago because it was out of date, and sending people in our community who need help down to the Lower Mainland.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

Peachland resident and cleanup volunteer Lloyd Stinson Sotas holds up a discarded TV riddled with bullet holes. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
PHOTOS: Peachland residents clean up community watershed

More than 70 people gave back to Mother Earth by assisting with the cleanup

Steven Brown is running for Penticton city council in the June by-election. (Contributed)
Penticton race director throws hat into city council ring

Steven Brown will run with a focus on small business

Penticton Vees celebrate a goal in their second win to start their season on Saturday night at the SOEC. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton Vees head into final weekend tied for first in league

The Vees have two games to take the top spot

Coronavirus 3D illustration. (CDC photo)
Two Summerland businesses closed due to COVID-19

The businesses are listed on the Interior Health website

Memorials have been set up to honour those who died during the Second World War. (Pixabay.com)
COLUMN: It’s time to stop making comparisons to Hitler

The deadliest, most destructive war in human history should not become a metaphor

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

City of Vernon Coun. Dalvir Nahal proposed two blocks of Main Street be closed to bolster recovery for downtown businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)
Vernon’s ‘support local’ Main Street closure would cost city $24K, staff say

Bylaw costs, loss of parking revenue and equipment logistics behind price tag

Five properties have been added to the Lake Country fire protection zone, after council moved to expand the local service area Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Google Maps)
Lake Country expands fire protection zone, covering 5 exposed properties

The properties petitioned to join the local service area after being left out ‘for reasons unknown’

VSAR’s Air Rescue One unit assisted in a rescue in West Kelowna May 3, 2021. (VSAR screenshot)
VIDEO: VSAR’s Air Rescue One team assists in West Kelowna Rescue

The Vernon Search and Rescue helicopter team pulled off a successful rescue Monday

Officials are surveying the streets of Vernon to get a better sense of the issue of homelessness in the city, as part of the province’s point-in-time homeless count for 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Province conducts homeless count in Vernon

It’s the first time Vernon has been included in the provincial homeless count

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

A proposed development would see two four-storey affordable housing complexes erected on Adair Street in Armstrong, next to the Nor-Val Arena. (Google Maps)
Local tenants to be prioritized for Armstrong affordable housing project

Staff have drafted an expression of interest to find a developer to move forward with on the project

Most Read