The story of Mikael Arrak goes much deeper than alleged assaults and brushes with the Nelson Police Department. It’s really about a broken system not well enough equipped to deal with mental illness.
In this week’s story you can read about the young man who is once again before the courts. In January 2011 he was the focus of national media attention when a judge ordered him to leave town on a bus until his probation for criminally harassing an ex-girlfriend ended (the order was subsequently revoked).
Arrak has been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He has been in psychiatric facilities many times in his young life.
His mental illness makes him act in ways that get him into trouble with the law and into the headlines of the newspaper. When you read about his story, it’s hard not to feel compassion for the man. His life has been crippled by his illness and his actions are a result of it.
Arrak’s situation is certainly not unique. In small towns and big cities, police constantly struggle with those who suffer from mental illness. It puts stress on police officers, families, victims and the frontline workers in the support systems the province has in place. Unfortunately, it’s never enough.
So what can be done? That answer is extremely tricky.
Most of the services for those who suffer from mental illness are voluntary. The Mental Health Act only allows people to be committed to hospital against their will if they meet certain criteria, and those are generally short stays.
Care workers and officials can’t force a person to take advantage of what is available or follow a care plan. We don’t just throw people into institutions anymore.
Clearly this conversation needs to continue and not only when unusual behaviour makes headlines. The topic of mental illness is uncomfortable. Until more people are talking about it, change will come slowly. And for those who suffer daily, time is not a luxury they can afford.