Alex Binkley, Facing Up to the mental health challenge

 

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is www.alex.binkley.com. 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 

Facing up to the mental health challenge

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
 
Next time you’re in a mall, theatre, restaurant or coffee shop, look around at the other patrons. Statistics say that one in five Canadians suffers from a mental illness. Can you spot any?
 
If you did, would you treat them differently?
 
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has released a landmark report on mental health called Changing Directions, Changing Lives. It contains 109 recommendations for helping the sufferers and their caregivers and talks about what governments, the private sector and the medical community can do to help.
 
There’s a lot those of us who have been spared the anguish and indignity of a mental illness can do on a personal level to help. One of the jobs going forward for the commission and its supporters will be getting the public more involved.
 
Michael Kirby, who headed a Senate committee study which produced Out of the Shadows that lead to the creation of the Commission, which he chaired until recently, put it this way at the release of the report.
 
“There’s a role for thousands and thousands of Canadians to give mental health the priority it deserves … to bring it out of the shadows. … The Commission will continue to do its part, but transforming the mental health system in this country is truly a job for us all.”
 
One way is to bury old attitudes and prejudices about mental illness. “We can and must defeat the stigma that has blighted people’s attitudes for far too long and has fed the discrimination that so many have endured,” the he says.
 
“We can and must ensure that everyone who confronts a mental health problem or illness is able to count on the same support, treatment and services as anyone who is facing a physical health challenge. We can and must promote mental health in all walks of life, and do everything possible to reduce people’s risk of developing a mental health problem or illness, or of becoming so desperate as to contemplate suicide.”
 
One of the biggest challenges for anyone suffering a mental illness is gaining better access to mental health services.
 
The Canadian Association on Mental Illness and Mental Health says “Canada was the only advanced industrial country without a national strategy or plan on mental health. As a result, people in Canada have suffered unnecessary disability and mortality from mental illness, addictions, and poor mental health, and system costs continue to rise.”
 
The stigmas associated with mental illness “has kept discussion of the issues out of the public arena for far too long.”
 
In recent years, sufferers, from high profile athletes to average joes, have bared their souls in public about their battles with mental illness. “In increasing numbers they have found the courage to speak publicly about their personal experiences and the many obstacles they face in obtaining the help and support they need from an underfunded and fragmented mental health system. Family members have echoed this assessment while pointing to the many challenges that they also confront.”
 
Treating the mentally ill isn’t enough, the report says. “As a country, we must pay greater attention to the promotion of mental health for the entire population and to the prevention of mental illness wherever possible.”
 
Kirby’s Senate report noted that “Unlike for other health conditions, only one in three people who experience a mental health problem or illness — and as few as one in four children or youth — report that they have sought and received services and treatment.
 
“There are many reasons for this. Stigma and the fear of being labeled prevent many people from looking for help. Finding the right service can be a serious challenge. Some people do not recognize that they have a problem, whether from lack of knowledge or because the illness itself can prevent people from understanding what is happening to them and that help would make a difference. The mental health system should be there for everyone who needs it, and now is the time to make this happen.”
 
Next time we will look at some of the people who have made a difference in bringing recognition of the damage and cost of mental illness into the main stream.

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