Hostility to mental illness misplaced

Re: Respectful citizens have housing worries, Letters, Sept. 24.

To the Editor,

Re: Respectful citizens have housing worries, Letters, Sept. 24.

It seems that every time I open the paper, I read another letter demonizing those who struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction.

The letter written by Paul Pipke was particularly vile and shocking, and reinforced a totally unproductive “us versus them” mentality, which vilifies a group of people who suffer from a mental illness.

Pipke seems to believe the north end is some sort of problem-free utopia, a society of innocence, into which this supposedly evil wet housing project is being injected.

Unfortunately, it is not only him who needs a reality check.

For starters, addiction is mental illness, and this idea that addiction represents a ‘moral failing’ or as a symptom of evil is only slightly less dated than the burning of witches.

Having a dependence on a substance, be it to alcohol, prescription or street drugs, is not the result of weakness of character, it is the result of the interplay of a host of factors, which include genetics, exposure to trauma, the early childhood environment, and exposure to drugs and alcohol at an early age.

Drug addicts and alcoholics come from all walks of life. Some are ‘high functioning’, others live on the street, and there are many in between.

What they all have in common is that their brains are literally rewired to seek their substances of choice above all other considerations, and that many of them will die without ever getting clean.

This is not an issue of innocence versus moral bankruptcy, it is an issue of mental illness plain and simple.

Like others who are mentally ill, alcoholics and drug addicts have to deal with the additional burden of stigmatization that dehumanizes them and only makes it harder for them to get the psychological treatment they require.

Progressive social policy, such as the implementation of wet housing, increases the likelihood that street-level alcoholics and drug addicts will access the types of services they need to get well. It is called harm reduction.

Asking someone who has no home, no access to nutritious food, and in many cases a long history of abuse, to spontaneously recover is like asking a paraplegic to stop whining and start walking.

Expecting people to recover and become contributing members of society without such basic essential supports is patently absurd.

The real question is: do alcoholics and drug addicts trying to get off the street want to live in a community where many are so self-righteously hostile towards the mentally ill?

Daniel Elleker


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