Diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart disease. We hear these words and say “help!” Pour in the funding, I don’t care how much it costs, we need a cure and proper care and treatment!
We shudder at the thought of possibly being struck down someday and needing to be taken care of when we are ill. When we’re old and unable to care for ourselves, we find ourselves stressed out at having to go into a care home or hospital to be cared for. Yet this is all provided to us.
Cerebral palsy, autism, FASD, Down syndrome. While not all mental health issues are present from birth, many families find themselves unable to care for loved ones when faced with the challenges they will be presented. Years ago, many were deemed “not a person” and shut into institutions of which many were ripe with abuse, neglect and lack of care. The barbaric conditions some were subjected to are worse than many of us would wish on our own enemies. Many care homes were run the same way.
Now better educated, we’re less naive to the fact that a person is indeed a person no matter their race, age or disability. We seek to find our elders places to spend their last years that offer programs, care, treatment and comfort. Nurses while still overworked are provided support staff such as care aides, cleaning staff, technicians, food workers, the whole kit and caboodle.
Now take someone who has a mental health issue. Whatever their diagnosis they deserve to have the same rights and freedoms as everyone. Those who are able to work, have hobbies, do everyday activities such as cooking and cleaning, shopping and take an active part in making their own decisions. They have their own place to live with their own possessions and while most live with other inhabitants they can enjoy having an individualistic lifestyle.
Unlike hospitals and care homes however, these group homes are usually staffed by only one or two support staff.
As a support worker, our duties range to almost endless boundaries. Your loved ones are fed, bathed, given medications, injections, helped to dress, personal hygiene and any list of things which they may need help doing in any given day. They are taken to their appointments, out for outings, vacations and many need help with every day things that you and I would take for granted.
They are also assisted during times of crisis, whether it be emotional or physical, violent or nonviolent.
We are also first aid and emergency caregivers until appropriate medical care can be received. It is at times not an easy job. It can also be very rewarding knowing you are helping someone accomplish the standard of living they deserve. It is impossible to not get attached to those you care for considering the input we must have in many of their lives.
In the time that it has taken inflation to rise 46.5 per cent, our funding hasn’t even gone up 25 per cent. Minimum wage in Manitoba is now $10.25. The average wage for support workers is $12.06. Care aide starts at $15-$17/hour. Every time minimum wage has gone up, our salary has not. I work for a not-for-profit organization and we are government-funded. Any wage increases we get every year are taken from the budget after all other needs are met. These amounts are seldom more than 10 cents an hour or so.
This year, we have been told there will be no wage increase, despite acknowledgement years ago that our wages should be that of at least a care aide and that efforts were being made to do so. Recently the newspapers have had several write ups explaining the circumstances all of these organizations are in. With the government refusing to increase funding, many houses are shutting down. I’ve heard the government is suggesting that people should be handed back over to their families, possibly reinstitutionalized, placed in massive apartment buildings with one staff for those who are more independent and be fostered out for those who need constant care.
Why does the government feel the need to undo all the good we’ve all strived for? I’ve worked for years at times working 30 or more hours in a row due to the lack of staff caused by the low pay. I’ve done it with the hopes that someday all will be put right.
While looking at other articles, one said mental health receives five per cent of the health-care budget. To me that’s like going out for a Starbucks coffee and handing a homeless guy the dregs of the cup after you’ve butted out a cigarette in it.
The government keeps trying to placate those calling for change by saying they’re looking for solutions. Are they? So far to me it just sounds like nothing more than big words and noise. I’m only one person and while I can’t do much I can try to educate people on the crisis that we’re facing and have been facing for some time now. Were I to have an accident tomorrow and end up needing mental health care, it horrifies me to think that we’re looking at going back to times of old. Lock me up, toss away the key and medicate me into submission because it saves a dollar more than helping me get the help I need to continue living the way I am accustomed.
I pay enough in taxes, I vote, I’d like to see my money going to appropriate causes rather than paying for our government to go on paid vacations, be driven and flown around everywhere and be paid more in a year than I get in a lifetime.
Those of us in the mental health field need to make noise and we need to be heard. And something needs to be done.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 12, 2012