Draft mental health strategy - concerns

Ever since its inception in 2007, I have been eagerly following the progress of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

How encouraging to finally have an organized commission funded by the federal government with a mandate to raise awareness and coordinate policy surrounding mental health in our country. I have written several times about their work to dispel stigma, raise public awareness, tackle poverty and housing issues and build a framework for a national strategy on mental health.

Canada’s health care orphan is sure to be helped by increased profile and advocacy within the federal government.

Although I feel there have been many positive steps taken thus far by the MHCC, I am concerned by criticisms among those who have seen a draft copy of the long awaited Mental Health Strategy.

Several advocacy groups, individuals and columnists have expressed disappointment with the draft strategy, which they say fails to recognize the realities of severe mental illness and places too much emphasis on a recovery model assuming everyone will get better with support.

Some say there is no real differentiation made in the report between those with mild mental health ‘problems’ and those with serious illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

A Globe and Mail column put it strongly saying that after reading the draft strategy he was left with an “unpleasant aftertaste: the distinct feeling that psychiatry and medications have no place in Canada’s approach to tackling mental illness.”

Although the draft strategy follows many of the recommendations from previous reports on the state of mental health care in Canada, it seems an emphasis on social science, community services and peer support have completely overshadowed a need for increased scientific research, psychiatric beds, or treatment facilities.

Of course we need to raise awareness across the board regarding mental health and mental illness. One in five Canadians experiences some form of mental health condition. It is a leading cause of disability and it costs our economy more than $50 billion a year. Battling stigma, raising awareness and improving community supports can go a long way toward helping many Canadians.

Still, we cannot overlook the thousands of Canadians who experience severe mental illness for which we have yet to develop satisfactory treatments. We cannot continue to leave these individuals to fend for themselves on the streets or in our prisons. We cannot leave them and their families to fight alone for help.

No – we must continue to use science to help us gain further understanding of the human brain and these conditions. A truly national mental health strategy will include all Canadians who experience mental illness and ensure they have access to necessary treatments and help when it is needed.


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