Binkley Report on mental health

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...

The Binkley Report

Time to do something positive for mental health

One in five Canadians will suffer from the malaise

By Alex Binkley

True North Perspective

1 February 2013 — Nearly a year ago, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released its ground-breaking report Changing Directions, Changing Lives. Since then a lot of people have worked to begin implementing its recommendations.

Much of the effort has aimed at getting those of who don’t suffer from a mental illness to recognize and help those who do. One result has been the website If you haven’t heard of it, check it out by clicking on the green dot, view the different sections and add your name to the list of supporters if you feel so inclined.

One in five Canadians will suffer a mental illness at some point in their lives and will have to live with the stigma and shame that has too long been associated with the malaise.
The Commission and its companion organization, Partners for Mental Health, have been reaching out to Canadians in many ways. More than 50,000 Canadians have been through a program that teaches them to recognize the signs of mental illness, the Commission said in its annual report tabled in Parliament.

Another program is Opening Minds, which works to make people more aware of mental illness.

“The past year has seen significant progress in the area of mental health reform, which has sparked enormous opportunity for the years ahead,” say Commission Chairman Michael Kirby and President and CEO Louise Bradley in a joint statement. “All of us recognized that if our country was to ever build a better mental health system, it would first need a solid foundation; Canadians would have to start talking openly about mental health and become interested in creating real change. Recently, individuals, governments, corporations and others have begun expressing unprecedented interest in discussing and learning about mental health. More importantly, they want to do more. They want to build a better future for all Canadians.”

Among other initiatives is at Home/Chez Soi, a research project on homelessness and mental health and how to help people living on the street cope with mental illness.

“The Commission’s Knowledge Exchange Centre initiated a pan-Canadian primary care project, created a training institute for individuals to learn how to more effectively share knowledge in the field of mental health and accelerate the change that is needed, and launched an awards program to recognize the contributions of programs that are making significant strides in that area.

“Our Mental Health First Aid program surpassed another milestone, having now trained more than 50,000 Canadians to spot the signs of a mental health emergency and provide initial help.”

The report outlines plans to reduce the stigma the mentally ill too often encounter in health care and the media.

“People with mental health problems and illnesses say some of the most deeply felt stigma they experience comes from health care providers,” the report notes. To deal with that the Commission and its health care partners “developed a web-based continuing medical education program for family physicians and specialists to help them understand and combat the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.”

The program has roots in years of research and a program for family doctors in British Columbia, which is now being evaluated by Opening Minds. In addition to contact-based education to help increase physicians’ understanding of the needs of patients with mental health problems, it includes tools and resources so doctors have more confidence and fewer negative attitudes when treating patients with mental health problems.” The program has been accredited by the College of Family Physicians Canada and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

Opening Minds took a similar approach to educating pharmacy student so they are “more comfortable and confident in working with clients who have a mental health problem.”

The Commission is also investigating whether media coverage of mental health “is perpetuating negative stereotypes,” the report notes. A team at McGill University is analyzing more than 11,000 Canadian news reports from 2005–2012.

“Findings from the research will better inform how we approach the media regarding mental health issues, and help lead the creation of mental health guidelines for the media.”

We have come a long way, but a long way to go.