Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 20, 2005
The stigma of mental illness
Caritas hears that fear deters mentally ill from seeking treatment
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Fear of what might be on the other side of the door often prevents many addicts and others with mental illness from turning the handle to seek help. Instead, they choose to suffer with their disease.
But if a recognizable face was associated with a particular illness, perhaps more people might feel comfortable and get help, said Senator Jane Cordy.
"This a major problem," Cordy said during the Caritas Health Group's annual general meeting June 8. "We need champions within a community to come forward and put a human face on the issue of mental illness."
Cordy was part of the Senate standing committee on social affairs, science and technology that, in February 2003, embarked on a major study to determine what affects the treatment of mental health, mental illness and addiction in Canada.
Over 16 months, the committee held a series of 24 public hearings and listened to more than 100 people. It also received 114 detailed submissions and 43 letters.
The first stage of the study was tabled in the Senate in November 2004. It provided a national overview of mental health policy and practice.
The reports made no concrete recommendations, but rather examined the current situation in Canada and abroad, setting out a variety of issues and options.
The stigma of having a mental illness was seen as a serious issue.
"It can happen to anybody," said Cordy, a former teacher and religious education volunteer at St. Clement's Parish in Dartmouth, N.S.
One in 5 suffer
"Statistics say that one in five people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. But providing help is easier said than done because there is a fear factor involved."
The Caritas meeting recognized the work of Dr. Robert Turnbull and the endovascular stent graft team at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital. Caritas presented them with its 2005 Mission Award (Team) for its groundbreaking work offering patients with aneurysms or aortic injuries a faster and less invasive treatment to repair the walls of their weakened arteries.
The 2005 Mission Award (Individual) was given to Ruth Hampton, resident care manager for Forget-Me-Not Gardens, an Alzheimer's unit at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Unit. Along with some 20 staff members, Hampton provides a cheerful and safe home for the residents and their family members.
Treat body, mind, soul
Cordy said the Senate's mental health study attests to the value of a philosophy of health care that seeks to treat the body, mind and soul.
The committee plans to table and release its final report containing recommendations and reforms in early 2006.
Cordy says she believes people might be surprised to find that others in their personal or professional circles are mentally ill.
"In many cases, people stay on at work for a longer period of time because of the stigma of having a mental illness. They fear they will be fired or not promoted. They worry how their colleagues will feel about them. This means they are then off work for a longer period of time."
Cordy hopes the Senate report will help but she says providing treatment for mental health is "a tough job."
"There is a high prevalence of mental illness in Canada," Cordy told the audience. "Because mental health has been so ignored and under funded, this has left a lot of groups particularly vulnerable - children, adolescents, aboriginal peoples and individuals with complex needs," she said.
"We have no national policy for mental health, mental illness or addiction. This makes Canada the only G8 country without such a policy."
Should Canada develop a national anti-stigma strategy? Cordy asked. What can be done to change the public's attitude towards individuals with mental illness and addiction? What role should government play?
The cost of mental illness and addiction is immense, with almost half the cost borne by employers, she said. Human resources issues range from a critical shortage of providers to questions of how to pay for the full continuum of services.
The federal government has a direct role with respect to First Nations and Inuit, inmates in federal penitentiaries, veterans and members of the RCMP and Canadian Forces. But federal efforts are highly fragmented with no coordinated strategy among the various federal departments, Cordy said.
But health care is a provincial issue and the federal government can only play an indirect role in improving the overall mental health system, she said.
"Unfortunately, the federal government has been ambivalent about this indirect role in mental health."
Cordy wondered if the federal government should consider enacting a Canada Mental Health Act.
"With the possibility for modest federal involvement, we need to consider how we can involve all levels of government and just what the federal role should be," Cordy said.
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