Enormity of dealing with mental health crisis

A new national charity to raise money and public awareness for mental illness fills me with cautious optimism.

Set up by some of the same people involved in Canada’s recent mental health commission, the new charity called Mind and Brain Canada will raise funds for research and awareness campaigns to bring mental illness out of the shadows.

Organizers of Mind and Brain Canada say a prominent fundraising body similar to the Canadian Cancer Society or the Heart and Stroke Foundation is needed if we want to fight the stigma still associated with mental illness. Not only does an organization like this have potential to change people’s perceptions of mental illness, but it will also help alleviate the lack of funding this area of health receives.

I agree that a high profile fundraising agency is needed in this field and I sincerely hope this one succeeds in raising awareness and support to deal with what can only be called a national health crisis.

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in life and in Canada that translates to more than eight million people.

Most often, this is causing disability for people in their prime family and earning years since many mental health problems begin in late adolescence and early adulthood.

Since these are primarily chronic lifelong conditions they can seriously hinder a person’s success throughout adult life if they are not diagnosed and treated effectively.

Not only does mental illness cost our economy roughly $33 billion each year in disability and lost productivity, but we currently spend another six to eight billion dollars treating mental disorders each year.

Although it doesn’t receive the same press as some other health problems, more hospital days are used by people with mental illness than by cancer and heart disease patients combined.

While increased government funding and acknowledgment of mental health issues are critical, no country in the world can afford to provide all the services its citizens want or need using current delivery systems.

We need to invest in primary prevention wherever possible. This means, among other things, giving our children the best start with lives free from abuse and neglect, it means dealing with socioeconomic problems such as affordable housing and nutrition for the poor and it means embracing better business practices to help alleviate the increasingly chronic job stress in our country.

Raising awareness and funds through charitable and government channels will be key in this prevention as well as in promoting friendship and support from society as a whole. These simple things can be invaluable to a mentally ill person’s recovery.

In addition to prevention, we need to embrace new technology to help deliver some types of intervention more cost effectively. This could include Internet-based education and therapies, group therapies and better social programs.

I applaud the formation of the new Mind and Brain Canada - I hope we all realize the enormity of the task ahead of us and step up to do our part to bring mental illness out of the shadows.


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