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The Mental Health Commission of Canada Is Stuck in Groundhog Day

01/25/2015 10:59 EST | Updated 03/27/2015 05:59 EDT
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What am I missing here? The Mental Health Commission of Canada has just released the first of two reports on indicators showing how poorly we treat those with mental illness in Canada. I really have to ask why, as this is something we already know.

In May, 2006, the Canadian Senate released its study of mental health in Canada called Out of the Shadows At Last. What went into that report was based on more than 2,000 submissions, two online consultations and meeting people in every province in the country. They came up with a horrible picture of third world conditions in a first world nation.

As a result of that report, the Mental Health Commission of Canada was established in 2007 for a 10 year period to act as "a catalyst for improving the mental health system" and to "bring together leaders and organizations from across the country to accelerate these changes." All parties in the House of Commons voted in favour of its establishment and it was endorsed by all provincial governments.

But, as I pointed out in an earlier blog, the establishment of the MHCC was considered by Prime Minister Harper to be a reform when in fact it was nothing but a sham. The Federal Government cannot affect change in healthcare which is the preserve of the provinces so the Senate recommendation was to also give the MHCC a Transition Fund of $536 million per year for 10 years. That money would be used to fund the provinces to actually improve services. The Transition Fund was never approved and so the MHCC became a bureaucracy with little or no ability to bring about any change.

Part of the mandate of the commission, however, was to come up with a strategy for mental health which they did. It is a 156-page document that was based, as they said, "on the experience, knowledge and advice of thousands of people across the country in the course of drafting this Strategy." And I'm sure that some of those Canadians also spoke to the Senate Committee a few years earlier and the ones in Ontario probably testified to the many Ontario studies done there.

As for the just released data indicators on the state of mental health in this country, the MHCC said "this pioneering project reveals the current landscape of the mental health of Canadians and will serve to promote discussion of how to improve mental health across the country."

But, didn't they already tell us in their strategy how to actually accomplish that? The 2006 Senate report told us how bad things were, the MHCC strategy reiterated that and told us how to fix them, and, in Ontario, which I'm most familiar with, there have been 16 reports on improving mental health services between 1983 and 2011. A few months ago, Ontario announced a new committee to investigate reforms.

Lots of reports, little action!

But, I'm confused by all this. When you develop a plan, whether to renovate a house, fix a car, whatever, you start with an outline of what the problems are. Your plan is based on those problems and then you develop a strategy to fix them. The MHCC did that, I assume. So, why now investigate what those problems are all over again? What is the point? If you didn't really know, then how could you have come up with a strategy a few years earlier? If that's the case, then you wasted time and resources.

What I would like to see is an accounting of what they did to advance their strategy, a progress report on how much has been achieved, how much more has to be done, what roadblocks exist and how they propose to overcome them and continue to progress.

What we have now reminds me of Bill Murray andGroundhog Day. Instead of a weatherman living the same day over and over again, we have mental illness reformers doing the same thing over and over again.

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