550 Queen Street East
Canada M5A 1V2
Interview with Lana Frado
In its commitment to improving the lives of people living
with mental illness, Mainstay Housing makes this forum within our
website available. Here we offer a variety of perspectives on issues
around mental health. Mainstay does not necessarily agree with all
the opinions expressed here.
Lana Frado is the executive director of Sound Times Support Services.
The mandate of Sound Times is to provide social, recreational and
educational opportunities to people who use the mental health system.
As well, the agency helps people cope with their housing, legal or disability
needs. Lana herself, like all the people who work in and govern the agency,
is a psychiatric survivor.
Lana has a knife sharp understanding of the situation facing survivors.
Here, in excerpts from a longer spoken interview, she comments in
a no-punches-pulled manner on many aspects of the mental health system.
on The Necessity of Supportive Housing
Supportive housing is necessary for survivors one, because sometimes
long periods of institutionalization or a history of homelessness
or unstable housing means they may have difficulty maintaining their
housing. They may not know the mechanics of how to run a house,
or they may be overwhelmed by a different set of responsibilities
in running a house - even if it is only a small bachelor apartment.
They can learn or relearn these skills, but they may need support.
It doesn't necessarily have to be a Housing Worker who does that,
it could be a peer.
Secondly, the nature of mental health issues is that it's intermittent.
There need to be people around if things get bad. Most agencies are
9-5 and as a survivor myself, I can tell you, I get weirdest when
I'm at home. That's where all my stuff happens. I can pretty much
pull it together when I'm out and about. There is a need to have people
around. Also when you're in supportive housing, you're there with
a bunch of people like you. Even though we can be intolerant of each
other, there is an overall understanding, a safety level, that sometimes
we're different and that that difference needs to be accommodated.
on Discharge Planning Back to Top
The hospital system does not do a particularly good job of discharge
planning. Sometimes they just release people into nothing. No housing,
and they know they're homeless. They just send them off with their
little bag of socks and underwear and a token. Or, you've just gotten
out of the hospital and they discharge you to a hostel. What is
that? At the same time, there is no housing for them to discharge
them to. Accountability has to be built into the system.
on What Treatment Means
Any survivor will tell you, that since he or she got a job, or a place
to live, they haven't been in hospital for X number of years, or
haven't used so much medication. But it's the whole package. Our
mental health system functions on a bio-psychiatric model and all
they do is look at the symptoms, the illness, the diagnosis and
the medication. Why doesn't treatment for mental health problems
include access to housing? You want to have community treatment
orders? You want to force people to take medication whether they
want it or not when they are living in the community? But why don't
you force the system to provide housing, then? What does treatment
mean? Treatment means medication. In our present system, it doesn't
mean how you treat people.
on The Middle Class Cushion
Look at the people who have been diagnosed with significant mental
health issues. If they are people who have money, family, community
connections and a place to live, then when they self-destruct, it's
not a lifetime of self-destructing. Take that famous actress recently,
for example. She ran around somebody's backyard in a manic episode
or something. But she's not in and out of garbage cans. There is
a cushion there for her to be able to pick up the pieces. She's
certainly not living at a shelter, and I'm sure that if she was
living at a shelter, she would have a lot more significant mental
A man died in Montreal recently, just outside the subway station.
People were walking by, and he was pleading for help. A woman went
to help him and she had him in her arms and he died. And the statement
from the hospital was, “He wasn't abandoned. He got his medication
every week.” But he was homeless and he froze to death. So
what does treatment mean? They continue to be obsessed with medication
and pour all that money into research. Corporations don't make as
much money providing housing.
on Class Bias
If people were treated properly to begin with, they wouldn't need
all the other stuff - programs, rehab. Nobody is willing to talk
about the value system that they're operating from, the class bias.
Can you go to rehab and get a degree in political science? No, you
get to stuff paper in envelopes. Well, if I wanted to do that, that
would be great, but that's not what I aspire to do, and I don't
think there was one kid that I was in high school with who said, “Gee,
I'd really like to grow up and stuff papers in envelopes.”
on The Mental Health System
If you don't have good supportive housing, of course you need a pile
of case managers. I know people who have 5 or 6 case managers making
a living off of them and their life is still a mess. The system
wouldn't even need half the things that they fund if they worked
at the key things: employment, housing and support determined by
people who use the system. If they have that, then all the rest
of it will fit together.
If I never got tangled up in the mental health system, I would just
be eccentric, odd. But once you get that stamped on you, you can
never get rid of it. It fundamentally changes your identity of yourself.
It changes the self in such a profound way that nobody can understand
what that feels like unless it has happened to them. Whether you
think the doctor is an idiot or not, whether you think the diagnosis
is wrong, or not, you have had an official in power tell you that
you don't think right. So that causes you to question every thought
you ever had prior to this moment and every future thought that
you're going to have. "Is this me thinking, or is it mental
illness thinking?" Once we've been branded, then every action
that we take is a potential symptom of our illness. When I tell
someone off, regardless of whether they deserve it or not, it becomes
my anger management issue. It profoundly changes you to have someone
in power tell you that you're crazy. That's where stigma happens
because then we stigmatize ourselves. What other people think about
us and do to us because of our labels is discrimination. Pure and
on Fear of Survivors
Survivors invoke a primal fear in many people. Most people have come,
at some point in their lives, to a place where they think they're
going to go over the edge. They've questioned their own ability
to judge things. If they had to choose between giving up their mental
faculties and having their leg cut off, most would choose the leg.
Our ability to reason and think is what makes us human. Above all,
that is what people hang on to. It goes beyond economics, it goes
to your very core sense of self: What if I lost myself like this
I had a guy ripped off by a landlord, and I told him to represent
himself in court. He did it, and he won the case. We supported him,
told him what to do - you go in that court room and stand up for
yourself and say that man ripped you off. And he got a judgement
in his favour. There's nothing that can replace that - no amount
of case managers or medication. Nothing will ever change the way
that guy felt when that happened.
For further reading, click here for a short list of resources.