A scan of news around BC and nationally demonstrates that the issue of Mental Health is completely invisible on World Mental Health Day, as declared by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. Not one single story, article, inspirational person mentioned in any of the corporate media. This tells us how much work we have to do on raising the visibility of an issue that will impact every single one of us at some point in time.
Each and every day across BC, thousands of children, youth, adults and seniors are living with mental illness. Any one of us can develop a mental illness. No-one is immune. It is estimated that one in five Canadians will experience mental illness this year. We are all one accident, trauma or tragedy away from having our lives, our mental and physical health impacted in ways that we can hardly imagine. At those times, we require effective and timely help, compassion and support.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that mental illness costs the Canadian economy $51 billion per year in terms of lost workdays, disruptions to the workplace and health care service use. According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report mental health mental health conditions account for 13% of mortality and disability of the total burden of health conditions.
From 1998 to 2008, 254 of BC's young people under the age of 19 took their own lives. According to the BC Coroners Service, suicide is the second most common cause of death for BC's young people, after motor vehicle accidents. Child and youth mental health services have always been inadequately funded, but with rising rates of anxiety and depression and cuts to specialized services, such as sexual abuse counselling to children and youth, too many young people are starting out their lives in fragile and difficult circumstances.
The Mental health care system is under siege in BC. The system was already too difficult to access for individuals requiring assessment, treatment and recovery from mental illness. Millions of dollars have been cut from mental health services around the province. Many individuals have lost the care and support of community mental health clinicians and other support workers who helped them cope with living with the marginalization, challenges and stigma that can be the experience of many people with chronic and severe mental illness. Psychiatric beds in hospitals have been reduced and people often can't be admitted, or are discharged prior to psychiatric stabilization and with few resources to assist in their transition back to living in the community, including housing. Adult psychiatric long-term beds are severely lacking and little planning is being done for a projected increase in the need for geriatric community and in-patient psychiatric care.
People with mental illness deserve respect, dignity and care. If someone has a chronic physical injury, or illness, we would not deny them care. In many respects, our systems of care for those who are living with mental illness are failing on an epic scale. As a social worker, I have spoken with many individuals and family members who were desperately seeking mental health services and care. For many, it is only after tragedy struck that people could access the mental health assessment, treatment and rehabilitation programming that they required.
Anyone who has lived with mental illness, including family and friends, know that, in spite of all of the headlines, many who are affected are inspiring and resilient people. We need only look at some of the most innovative, successful people and beautiful works of art, the most useful inventions and ideas of artists, inventors and others to see that individuals with mental illness lead meaningful and productive lives and introduce to our world ideas and works of great value to society.
It is my hope and belief that with commitment to sound and proactive public policy and adequate funding of mental health systems of care by all levels of government that we can assist and support children, youth and adults with mental illness to be healthy and reach their potential. When we realize those investments in social capital and human potential our families, communities and society will be all the more wealthy because of it.
For a comprehensive list of Mental Health & Addiction Resources see here.