The tall, beautiful woman lay on the floor of her apartment dead and invisible for 5 months

Elizabeth Berrigan invisible in death (roses from Island Deaths)

She was a tall, beautiful and intelligent Irish woman of a proud Prince Edward Island family.

Those eyes of hers could flash with wit, laughter and life.

They were also windows to a tortured soul who struggled for 30 years with mental illness and disability.  

Elizabeth Berrigan had trouble keeping family close. She had trouble keeping relationships, although she lived in one relationship for ten years.

She died alone, without a friend or family member. She didn’t even have a wake, or a funeral.

She does have a Facebook page, started after her death “Because I don’t believe Anyone should be Forgotten”. The person who started the page wants to remain anonymous and invisible too.

No one in her family owned up to knowing her. No friend said a good word at her funeral or wake.

Did a priest say Mass for Elizabeth or even a prayer over her coffin as it was lowered into the ground?

The CBC and Charlottetown Guardian printed the story of her death as a mystery. Then both media outlets allowed her only obituary to be slandered by the vile bigotry of ordinary people directed against this invisible woman who was mentally disabled.

In a family of strict Irish Catholics, Elizabeth was trouble. She was an outcast for saying and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Was she sick or just evil, possessed of the devil spirit?

Religion is not a good home for answers on mental illness and disability. For centuries, the disabled were assumed to be possessed of evil spirits. On PEI, the mentally disabled were hidden in attics and basements, or sent to institutions.

The sanctimonious judgement of one person expressed in a Guardian comment. “This woman burnt every bridge she ever crossed and inflicted as much misery on anyone see could for the past 40 years. She made her own bed.”

This is our problem – while it’s easy to put up with Uncle Bob in a wheelchair, Aunt Sadie with bipolar disorder is hard to get along with.

Elizabeth’s personality disorders didn’t make it any easier. It would have been more convenient if Elizabeth had cancer, heart disease or something doctors could treat, something people could pity.

Unfortunately for Elizabeth Berrigan, she had a mental disease that made her invisible, like the 7 million other Canadians with mental illness who are invisible – to us, the the medical establishment and to the government.

When we go to church or a public place, we can spot the physically disabled in wheelchairs or walkers. The mentally disabled are invisible.

Like many of those 7 million invisible, mentally ill Canadians, Elizabeth didn’t get the treatment she needed. Her life descended into an on-again-off-again, personal hell of mental disability.

Elizabeth was in and out of hospitals most of her life. She received several mental diagnosis but never received treatment that cured her. Elizabeth Berrigan was permanently, mentally disabled.

She was not hopelessly and severely disabled, which would have required hospitalization. She was able to live independently in Park Royal Court.

The PEI Government knew Elizabeth’s disability. They helped her a little, with the apartment and a subsistence allowance. You can’t live in Park Royal Court at 60 years of age without being disabled and without the permission of the government.

But they didn’t provide any other supports for her disability. Elizabeth should have qualified for supports designed for her individual needs, in a person centric approach (PEI DSP).

But somehow, the Government was able to consider her mental disability an unqualified mental illness that made her invisible to the system.

“We would hope that this is not the type of thing that would happen frequently,” said Faye Martin of PEI Social Services and Seniors five months after Elizabeth died alone in her government apartment.

The PEI Senior’s Federation don’t look after seniors with disabilities. “Linda Jean Nicholson, the executive director of the P.E.I. Senior Citizens’ Federation, said it is a sad reality that a senior citizen could die and not be discovered for months. “Stunned and dismayed and sad. It was very sad, what a tragedy,” Nicholson said Thursday. (CBC)

Source – Macleans Magazine Mental health care for the few, Each year, seven million Canadian experience mental illness. Many can’t get help.