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The Mental Health Commission Of Canada Embraces Honesty

While mental illness accounts for about 10% of the burden of disease in Ontario, it receives just 7 per cent of health care dollars. Relative to this burden, mental health care in Ontario is underfunded by about $1.5 billion. This needs to be addressed.
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MRI image of brain showing area of Alzheimer patient.
MRI image of brain showing area of Alzheimer patient.

It is the 10th anniversary of the establishment of a Mental Health Commission for Canada (MHCC) and, while I've been very critical of them in Huffington Post, I have to congratulate Louise Bradley, the president and CEO, for her honesty.

In a lengthy interview marking that milestone, Steve Paikin of TVO's The Agenda, pointed out in his introduction that the goal of the MHCC was to improve the treatment for those suffering from mental illness.

His first question, therefore, was to ask if Canadians have better mental illness care today than they had a decade ago. Ms Bradley found that to be a big question and replied that the landscape has improved but that there is still a long way to go.

She talked about their mandate to reduce stigma and said there had been reductions in stigma but people were still reluctant to seek services. The next logical question, which Paikin asked, was "Are services more readily available today than 10 years ago"? If people are being encouraged to get help, then we must have services for them to access.

Her honesty was refreshing in that she said "I would really like to say yes, it is dramatically better but I can't say that. Access to services is really a big problem."

And, as I've said many times (as have others), this lack of services is the real issue not stigma. What is the sense of encouraging people to come forth with their illness if we can do nothing to help them?

The Mood Disorder Society of Canada found that 91% of people who were seeking help in Canada wanted to have greater access to professionals. Over one third had to wait for over a year to get a diagnosis.

This past winter, a 17 year old girl was discharged from an Ottawa hospital still suicidal after spending 8 nights in the emergency room waiting for a psychiatric bed. That same month, the emergency room in the Ontario city of Guelph was at a standstill because they had a psychiatric bed shortage.

There were over 10 people in a psychiatric crisis with no beds for them. In Vancouver, a man is discharged from hospital early and given a bus ticket. Within an hour, he jumps off a bridge.

Inuk artist, Beatrice Deer has recently complained that "it was difficult to get therapy, because there weren't any therapists," as she pleads for a state of emergency to deal with suicides. In the Ontario city of Woodstock, secondary students are planning a walkout to protest the recent suicides of 5 classmates and the inaction of the board of education. The 16 year old organizer stated that "crisis beds are needed in Woodstock".

This is the reality that we face across the country and a reality that is not being addressed by the MHCC.

Psychiatric care is not funded to the same extent as other illnesses. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto said:

While mental illness accounts for about 10% of the burden of disease in Ontario, it receives just 7 per cent of health care dollars. Relative to this burden, mental health care in Ontario is underfunded by about $1.5 billion.

The provincial auditor in British Columbia has just released a report pointing out that mentally ill people in that province need more services than they are getting now.

The MHCC does not seem to be focusing on these issues which is the real crisis in Canada. But, in keeping with her stigma argument, Ms Bradley argued that this lack of resources also results from stigma. Governments, she said, stigmatize mental illness and this stigma "prevent(s) us from making the right investments".

Well, I beg to differ. That is not stigma but discrimination!

The other topic that was disconcerting was about the MHCC emphasis on prevention of mental illness. When it comes to the serious mental illnesses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and others, science is at a loss. If you do not know what causes these conditions (as is the case) then how do you prevent them? And that is what Steve asked.

Her answers:

  • school based mental health programs
  • targetting children and youth
  • stigma and discrimination
  • looking at children falling through the cracks between teen and adult years
  • integration of services

I have no idea how any of those things prevents illness and I would love for her to explain that.

I highly recommend that people listen to the full interview that included the increase in college and university students seeking mental health help and the impact that is having on schools and suicides in society and on first nation reserves.

And, if you are as disturbed as I am about their lack of progress, then write to your MP.

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