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With a May 9th election approaching, people in B.C. are hearing good news about increased funding for mental health services. The B.C. government has accepted federal funding of $655 million linked to mental health services over the next ten years.
Despite the good intentions of Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 5 - 11), it's pretty hard to learn some of the most basic information we need to know about mental illnesses. Many organizations, including the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) encourage us to take this week to discuss mental illness, but there seems to be a puzzling assumption that we don't actually have to know much about mental illnesses in order to have meaningful discussions. I'm still looking at the website for links to the early signs of psychosis or any information about schizophrenia.
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Most high-profile NCR patients -- that is, sufferers of mental illness who have committed horrific acts of violence and have been declared "not criminally responsible" by the courts -- are usually kept well-hidden from public view. But on Wednesday, October 8, another high-profile NCR patient, Sean Clifton, who tried his best to stab to death a complete stranger because his psychosis led him to believe he had to kill "the prettiest girl in the mall," will bravely step on stage to face the public after the screening of my documentary NCR: Not Criminally Responsible, in which he is featured.
Although "Mental Illness Awareness Week" is a lovely concept, it only serves to validate those of us who already understand the stigma. It does not enlighten those who already have a pre-existing perception of mental illness as being a defect. In order to enhance their efficacy, those of us with mental illness need to be proactive in our cause, and not be stunted by the stigma.
Almost 4 per cent of the population develops schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and these disorders mostly appear in youth and young adults. The families who this year will discover the agony of psychotic illnesses need to know that genuine help is available. The path to that help is just much more treacherous than it should be.
The VPD reports that 1 in 5 of the calls they respond to involve mental illness. Among the five recommendations that could reduce this inappropriate police involvement is the development an urgent care centre in Vancouver that will be staffed by psychiatrists. Anyone who has waited many hours in a crowded ER with a very psychotic person knows that this makes sense.
Now that Mental Illness Awareness Week is over for another year, how many of you learned about the early warning signs of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder? Since over 3 per cent of the population will develop these disorders, usually in adolescence or young adulthood, it's useful information. Parents who don't understand the strange behaviours that accompany psychosis are completely disempowered.
The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness week in Canada. I would like to dispel two of the myths of mental illness that are frequently mentioned -- that schizophrenia is not a disease and that medications make schizophrenia worse and/or are not needed. Proper treatment for people with serious mental illnesses can do wonders and it is cruel to deny that these illnesses exist.