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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.

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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 health problems.

on Medication
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.

on Stigma
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 simple.

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 person has?

on Power
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.

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