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Ontario Liberals Just Don't Understand Mental Illness

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Doing the right thing to improve services for those who are mentally ill is not about party politics but rather human decency. I realized that on Thursday after a verbal confrontation on my porch with my incumbent Liberal who made the mistake of knocking at my door. After that encounter, I read an article about Michael Wilson by Andre Picard in the Globe and Mail that put matters into perspective for me.

When I introduced myself to my incumbent who was seeking my vote, his response was "oh the mental health man". It deteriorated from there as I explained my displeasure with his government's failures to implement any of the recommendations from the Conservative report co-chaired by Michael Wilson that they inherited in 2003 when they came into office or the recommendations of their all party select committee of 2010.

Before backing off my porch and scurrying down the street in search of his handlers, he explained that all politicians agreed to suspend the implementation of the select committee report while they focused on services for children. That is utter nonsense but he departed so quickly that I couldn't challenge him on that.

This claim to be working on the children's issues has been around for awhile. A friend provided me with a letter that she received on August 29, 2011 from Anne Bowlby who was the manager of mental health and addictions in the Ministry of Health. The letter was sent on behalf of the Minister of Health, Deb Matthews, as a reply to my friend's complaints about lack of services. The letter explained that the government strategy, Open Minds Healthy Minds, would provide "fast access to high quality services, early identification and support and helping vulnerable kids with unique needs".

She also stated that the government will be "working with experts and stakeholders to develop performance measures for monitoring and reporting wait times, client experiences and health outcomes, as well as to standardize public reporting across Ontario."

As I said in my blog on March 11, there is no indication that any of this has been done three years later and that I was told that the government is working with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Services (ICES) to develop a scorecard and evaluation framework for the strategy. No advisory group, however, has been set up. And, a mark of their failure is a report by the Toronto Star on March 7 that parents of children with autism were complaining of confusion trying to navigate a convoluted system, lack of transparency about wait lists and how agencies make decisions about who is eligible for treatment and how long they get it.

How can you justify lack of action to help those with mental illness with an excuse that you are first helping kids when in reality you are ignoring them too.

In contrast is Michael Wilson who Andre described as "A button-down investment banker and no-nonsense Conservative politician known much more for a steely gaze on the bottom-line than a bleeding heart." But at the same time, "Wilson, the former finance minister, has left an indelible mark on mental health research and care in Canada, a contribution matched by few others."

Wilson was being honoured at a banquet on Wednesday evening by former parliamentarians but "Sprinkled among the audience of current and former politicians and scions of Bay Street -- a virtual Who's Who of the 1980s and 1990s power brokers in Canada -- were physicians, basic researchers, community activists, and even mental health patients, all of them with a personal connection to Mr. Wilson."

Wilson has been a tireless advocate for improvements to the mental health system since his son, Cameron, committed suicide in 1995 as the result of severe depression. While his accomplishments are numerous and well known, I have my own impression of him. Shortly after the Liberals came to power in Ontario in 2003, I was asked to cover a presentation he was giving at the Oakville Trafalgar Hospital west of Toronto by one of the papers that I freelanced for.

I gladly went and was surprised to find the talk in a small basement room of the hospital with all of about 30 or 40 people present. I was expecting a huge crowd in the main auditorium. And, despite a very bad cold, Wilson was there and eager to talk to this small group of ordinary folks about his passion for improving the mental health system. One comment he made I've quoted numerous times and dealt with the report he co-chaired called the Mental Health Implementation Taskforce. He said that he and his colleagues would continue to pressure the then newly elected Liberal government to implement those reforms.

The Liberals resisted, failed miserably and are still failing miserably. But the difference between Wilson and the present government was summed up by Picard's final quote of a phrase that Wilson never tires of stating.

Those living with mental illness are not a lost cause, they are a just cause. We should care for the mentally ill as a matter of good conscience and good public policy.

Ontario Liberals do not understand that. Until they do, we will not see any improvements at all.


The Toll Of Mental Illness In Canada
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