Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 14, 2007
Mentally ill need multi-faceted strategy
Lack of gun control is not the cause of Virginia Tech slaughter
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Our society seems to be in massive denial concerning prevalence of mental illness.
If we do not name the real problem and begin to address it, we will have to continue to deal with mounting frustrations and anger, bizarre behaviour, unnecessary deaths, and our very credibility as a caring society will be brought into question.
At the 2005 Alberta public fatality inquiry into the deaths of James Galloway and Martin Ostopovich, Dr. Patrick White testified that the prevalence of psychiatric problems, emotional disorders, in society is extremely high. He drew a graphic picture of the difficulties we face.
"The number of psychiatric consults done at the Royal Alexandra Hospital last year was 4,000, 3,800 at the University of Alberta Hospital. . . . The suicide rate in young males has quadrupled in 25 years. . . . Thirty-four per cent of Edmonton adults meet the criteria for psychiatric illness. Twenty per cent have substance abuse disorders.
"In Canada, 10.2 per cent of communicants use crack cocaine, 4.1 per cent use ecstasy. In Alberta, it's 12.3 and 6.5 per cent respectively. We don't have figures on crystal meth as yet, but if you look at the number of assessments we're doing, the number of patients who are being admitted, if you look at the police reports, it is rising exponentially quite seriously.
"And each psychiatrist in this region has invariably one or two young people - psychotic, aggressive and addicted to crystal meth at this very point in time. And depression is the third highest cause of disability in Canadians."
On April 17, 2007, one short day after the Virginia Tech massacre, the Government of Alberta's Bill 31: Mental Health Amendment Act 2007 received second reading.
Does Bill 31 go far enough in addressing the problems associated with mental health? The National Ad Hoc Committee for the Protection of the Mentally Ill (NADCFPMI) in Calgary has suggested that more is needed than inserting "community treatment order" into the existing act.
The committee has produced its own mental health rights shopping list.
It calls for a variety of actions, including wide public debate, examination and consultation on the proposed amendments; suggests protections for psychiatric patients in community care; the establishment of a mental health commissioner to give voice to patients' needs and rights; inclusion of mental illness in Alberta's disability and social justice lens and accompanying socio-economic reform strategies; the establishment of a seamless continuum of care that ensures patients are put in the right service with the right practitioner at the right time.
Out of 16 items on their shopping list, number 15 is "restrict gun control."
As important as this may be, it's not their first priority, nor should it be ours. We also need more than a few amendments to improve our outreach to those suffering from mental illness.
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