SPECIAL SERIES: Mental illness – An equal opportunity destroyer
A Delta father is worried about his son, who – suffering from schizophrenia – has fallen into drug addiction, which in turn has seen him repeatedly thrown in jail.
In fact, over the last four years, 30-year-old Brian Bylo has been to jail 30 times.
He is not alone. It’s estimated about one in three people in Canadian jails are suffering from mental illness.
Twenty per cent of sufferers “self-medicate” with alcohol or illicit drugs.
That’s the route taken by Whalley’s Janice Shore, a woman with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia who panhandled to pay for her drug addiction and frequently relied on North Surrey charities to survive.
She died in February after being badly beaten last December.
Those with mental illness often end up on the streets, behind bars, or in hospital ERs. Increasingly, front-line emergency responders are thrown into the roles of social workers and counsellors as the mentally ill fall through large gaps in the system.
Service providers in Surrey say they are inundated with people in desperate need of support – not surprising in light of statistics from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health that show one in five Canadians will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime, yet only one-third will receive the help they need.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said the combination of mental illness and addiction is the most important challenge facing the city.
“Bar none, it’s the number-one issue,” Watts said. “If you are ever going to have significant reductions in crime, then you have to deal with the addictions and mental health issue.”
Over the coming weeks, The Leader will explore the challenges of caring for these vulnerable citizens and the possible ways to better support those who are the hardest to help.