05/25/2015 12:13 EDT | Updated 05/25/2016 05:59 EDT

Mental Health Awareness Needs the Support of a Powerful Movement

Shutterstock / Oleg Golovnev

A woman I have become friends with over these past two years as I've written about my struggles with mental illness, has shared with me that her daughter, now in her late 30s, has been trampled by her illness, Bipolar 1 Disorder since her adolescence. Too many times in these past 20 years, my friend has stood by, powerless, as her daughter spirals into madness; and held her breath wondering if her daughter would be placed on the psychiatric ward for treatment. Sadly, this is not a guarantee. Sadly, this is a story all too familiar to many families.

As a society, we are comfortable with what we know and see. Mental illness is not often seen and too few know about it. Those who are mentally ill and seeking treatment are not only dealing with the signs and symptoms of the disease attacking their mind, but also the rejection from the teams of mental health professionals, themselves drowning beneath the paralyzing weight of bureaucracy. Unfortunately, this leaves families alone, scared, overworked, and dejected by a lack of commitment and compassion from the department of Canadian health care that is most knowledgeable about their respective illnesses. Without even the support of our Canadian mental health professionals and the ignorance of a huge percentage of the population on the existence and occurrence of mental illness, who, other than the families, is left to advocate?

The system is itself unconcerned by the mounting statistics of mental illness diagnoses. The people needing the care though, upon entering this land of neglect, are at first blinded by the idyllic notion that health care does not discriminate between those with physical illnesses or mental illnesses. However, after months of waiting for consults and then many more months waiting for small doses of therapy and medication, which are meant more as mollification rather than aggressively facing the mental illness, they are quickly dismissed and forgotten in the backlog of untreated cases. Does this happen for those seeking treatment of diabetes or cancer? Good grief, I hope not! And I wish it didn't happen for those fighting mental illness.

Mental health awareness is not on anyone's radar, and probably never will be until a movement is mounted akin to the Women's Rights Movement, which dates back to the early 1800s. And interestingly, mental illness has made very few strides since the 1800s as far as being representative of a demographic worthy of the same rights as those with physical ailments. Of course our treatment is more humane now than then, but our desire to ignore the fundamental issue of equality among individuals is still very present.

Continuity of care is crucial in battling mental illness. Teams of mental health advocates need to mount an attack, not only on the health care system but also on a nation which has been turning a blind eye to this epidemic; each person respectively thinking that mental illness is fictional, embarrassing, insignificant, or unserious. Although such televised events as the Bell Let's Talk Initiative, which had Clara Hughes cycling through the country, speaking out on her own illness in an effort to promote mental health awareness - although this event is to be applauded and greatly needed, one yearly occurrence meant to mount a movement is not enough.

The Canadian Mental Health Association details mental disorders and their respective percentages in the population, emphasizing the fact that a staggering 4.5 million people are either suffering with a mental illness or will be diagnosed with one. This is worrisome when one considers that mental illness is the costliest health problem in Canada with an estimated burden of $14.4 billion (CMHA), yet the Canadian Public Health Association "has seen its budget allocation decrease from $677 million in 2010/11 to $579 million in 2013/14, a reduction of over 14 per cent at a time when the burden of disease in Canada related to chronic disease, injuries, suicides and mental health is increasing."

Sadly these statistics are only worrisome to those who struggle from a mental illness or know someone who is. It's the quintessential "It won't happen to me" philosophy, which is keeping us tethered to the pole, unable to move forward, preventing us from launching a movement as powerful and as crucial as the women's rights movement. The only answer to this problem is to continue speaking out on the necessity of increased funding, resources, care, and facilities in order to prevent even more tragedies from occurring due to a dysfunctional and desensitized mental health care system.


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