The jury of the coroner’s inquest into the death of Mary Johnny recently determined her death was a homicide.
The inquest must have been very difficult experience for the family and friends of Ms Johnny and we, as a community, must remain diligent that their grief was not in vain.
The statement made by the lawyer for Eva Johnny (Mary’s mother), Ms Jennie Cunningham suggests a presence of a disturbing attitude and a tragic concern.
“She is happy that it is public information now and hopes that the verdict will instigate urgently required changes to the healthcare system, so that community members are treated with the care and respect that they deserve.”
Could it be that there is a prevailing attitude that alcohol addiction is just a matter of poor willpower and bad conduct? That alcoholism is not a disease but a choice? That alcoholics deserve to suffer because it is a moral disorder?
This was the attitude from past decades, but even by 1987 the American Medical Association endorsed the position “that drug dependencies, including alcoholism, are diseases.” In 1991 the AMA endorsed the classification by recognizing alcoholism under both the psychiatric and medical sections.
The causes for alcoholism are complicated and also well documented. Especially for women, a common origin stems from a history of physical or sexual assault, abuse and domestic violence.
Attitudes can be changed through education, experience, trust and courage.
A new attitude is to recognize that the abuse of alcohol in a situation of continued violence and a lack of peer support is a plea for help. It is coping skill (of numbing, etc.) to continue to live.
How many times did Mary Johnny ask for help? Over 35 years, probably “many times to detox” at the hospital.
If we uphold the old social stigma concerning alcoholism, we will continue to hurt people and the societal and financial costs will become unbearable.
No family is immune and alcoholism can destroy any segment of our society. It does not discriminate against social classes, ethic backgrounds or religious opinions.
Let us have the courage to let go of our past beliefs and embrace a new attitude.
Let us break down the silos and let us heal our communities together.