Fear and denial drive response to mental illness
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 6, 2002
"This movie made me see how little I understand mental
Tina Poucette Fox
Two weeks ago, I ran a column on mental illness and its depiction in
the award-winning motion picture, A Beautiful Mind. Based on all
the responses I've been receiving, mental illness is clearly a topic of
concern to many of you.
Tina Poucette Fox, wellness facilitator and retired Stoney First Nation
councillor, writes from Brandon University:
FINALLY GOT TO SEE A Beautiful Mind today. It is a fantastic
movie that makes one aware of one's fears and prejudices. Several of
our band members have this disease, and some of us fear them.
I once gave a ride to a fellow and was very fearful when he started
hallucinating and talking weird. I noticed that as soon as the sun shone
on his face, it triggered something, and he started moaning and talking
to something or someone. He was not talking to me. I was worried that
he might mistake me for a demon and attack me, but he didn't. I was
relieved when he got out at the townsite.
Another time, I was driving a relative home from Calgary. For about
30 minutes he'd been talking normally. But as we drove up Scott Lake
Hill, there was snow blowing across the highway. This caused him to
become disoriented and he mistook it for a muddy road. The rest of the
ride home I could tell he was in a different world as he started telling
me a fragmented story.
I am ashamed to say I stopped giving rides to these two people. I
feared for my safety.
This movie made me see how little I understand mental illness.
Tina Poucette Fox, Morley
Derek Dunwoody, recently retired rector of Cochrane's All Saints Anglican
Church, agrees with Tina that fear drives our response to mental illness:
DEAR WARREN, in your comments on A Beautiful Mind, you refer to the
attitudes of your parents' generation towards the patients of the state
mental hospital across the street from where you lived: "dangerous
crazies" to be feared as being like "wild dogs."
The fear of mental and emotional illness is still with us. We no longer
use abusive descriptions, but by the unspoken attitudes which shape
how, as a society, we deal or fail to deal with the emotionally and
mentally ill members of our community, it is clear that the fearful
mindset is still with us.
Here in Alberta, although we no longer practice the pseudo-science
of eugenics that led to the sterilization of these "undesirables,"
funding for helping the mentally ill is one of the first things to be
reduced in the latest binge of cutbacks.
Through the (anonymous) stories told to me by contacts I have among
those who work in the social services, I am appalled by the regular
supply of accounts of the misery that is being caused by shortages of
staff and impossible caseloads. Yet, this is a province the government
of which purports to promote "family values" and the premier
of which has said only recently, that "no child will suffer"
because of the so-called "restructuring" of the delivery of
I could tell him things that are utterly shameful and belie the pious
platitudes uttered from his own lips.
Not that one should be surprised by what is said by someone who, in
his arrogant ignorance, seems to think that he can receive the appropriate
treatment he needs to deal with his own addiction illness from those
who have enabled the very progression of that illness.
Denial, nurtured by fear, is one of the more corrosive results of
So there you are, Warren. Fear rules!
Derek Dunwoody, Cochrane
DEREK ADDED a postscript about fear and how it is affecting another
important part of our community the teachers who are out on strike:
"With regard to these undervalued women and men," he writes,
"I don't think that it is too far a stretch to say that our provincial
government is in fear of the 'e' word: 'Education.'"
© 2002 Warren Harbeck
Return to Coffee With Warren home page