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How Justin Trudeau Can Improve Mental Health Services In Canada

12/02/2015 12:12 EST | Updated 12/02/2016 05:12 EST
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When the Federal election campaign began, I did a blog post on "What will your candidate do to support mental health". None of the leaders discussed this topic although the electorate certainly indicated that this was important. That post was shared 1,014 times on Facebook and received 3.7K likes. So given the interest and the importance of this matter, I would like to make some suggestions to our new Prime Minister and his government.

I do hate to mention Trudeau's family but in this case it is important and, in fact, one advocate in the U.S. pointed out right after the election on Facebook that his mother does have bipolar disorder. The implication being that he would be more attuned to what needs to be improved. Mr. Trudeau has a first hand family experience on how difficult and disabling such a condition can be on the person and their family.

It was also his father who talked so eloquently about A Just Society. Well, we cannot have a just society when so many people remain with untreated mental illnesses in our universal health care system and end up homeless and/or incarcerated rather than in hospital or treatment.

If, Mr. Trudeau, you do take on improving mental health services (and you should) remember that we do not need more political correctness (PC). Thanks to PC, we often talk about mental health problems and issues rather than illnesses. Issues are something that policy wonks write papers about (which is what happens now) whereas illnesses are much more serious and require the intrusion of medicine and science.

We do not talk about cancer as a problem and an issue of uncontrolled cells or cell problems and issues so why do we do that with mental illness?

And then there is the total wasted effort on stigma. There are some in society unfortunately, who stigmatize the mentally ill. That is regrettable but do we really need to spend money on that and take that money away from the provision of treatment resources and hospital beds? We could use the analogy of the current refugee crisis to see how absurd this is. There are some in our country who are fearful of allowing refugees in because they might harbour terrorists. This fear was increased after the Paris attacks even though that was committed by mostly Belgian nationals.

If you had followed the mental illness strategy, you would have established a public relations campaign to help those fearful Canadians develop a better image of refugees instead of actually helping them. But you didn't. You forged ahead with your plan to help 25,000 of them over the next few months. That is what is needed for mental illness. We need to forge ahead to help people.

In his column summarizing health care around the world based on the book In Search of the Perfect Health System, Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard mentions that Australia has the best system of mental health care in the world. The one quote that stands out is this:

Canada "has a penchant for doing high-level, in-depth reviews of the health system's problems, but puts all its effort into producing recommendations and none into implementing them. Ouch."

What is even more interesting is that while Australia does have good mental health services, it also released a new report a year ago on how to make it better. That was followed by a response from the government last month on how they were going to implement those recommendations.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) released its strategy for mental health in 2012 and I don't recall our government issuing a press release that they would move forward with the recommendations. But here is another opportunity for you. The new chair of the MHCC is Michael Wilson. He lost a son to mental illness so he also has a family knowledge of the problems. He also co-chaired a mammoth report on how to improve mental health services in Ontario when the Conservative Party was in office in Ontario. That report was inherited shortly after it was completed by the new Liberal Government who promised to take it seriously but shelved it. In fact, from 1983 to now, Ontario has commissioned 17 reports on improving mental health care. That is a perfect example and reason for the book quote given above.

Justin Trudeau and our new Liberal Government have quite a few progressive changes to make over the course of the next few years. They need to add improved mental health care to that list. Canadians have waited long enough!