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Thursday, 10 May 2012

Mental Health in Canada - a celebration week and Canada's first national strategy

This is Mental Health week in Canada.  

The past decades have seen incredible changes in our approach to persons with mental illness, the recognition that mental illnesses are one of the most prevalent illnesses in society, and discussions that are leading to the normalization and destigmatization of mental illness similar to physical illnesses.  

There is a long way to go.

In recognition of the week, the Mental Health Commission of Canada has released its first national mental health strategy.   Perhaps you are cringing with the thought of another mental health plan, think of how many have been released already, the innumerable recommendations, and the slow dis-coordinated responses to previous local, regional or provincial plans.   So what possibly could a national mental health strategy bring to the table that has not been previously recommended?

Begin by looking at the Mental Health Commission of Canada website http://strategy.mentalhealthcommission.ca/  ,  A plethora of valuable information condensed to one location.  Right up from the recognition that 20% of Canadians suffer a mental illness at an annual cost of $50Billion (Canada’s total health care bill runs about $200 Billion annually).  Thirty per cent of disability work claims relate to mental illness, in the federal public service this is nearly fifty per cent.  The site is rich in its provision of facts supporting the efforts of bringing mental health to the forefront. 

The strategy summary is supposedly easier to read at only 34 pages Summary document   The full strategy only runs 113 pages Full report.  Typical however of mental health strategies are the 109 recommendations.  Also not surprisingly is the recommendations do not define who is responsible, in particular lack any direction to the federal government who would be the ones to whom a national commission should be explicitly directing their recommendations.  In an environment where the government is reluctant at best to receive advocacy, and at its worst eliminates funding for bodies who attempt to provide constructive suggestions on the role of the federal government – it is perhaps the best that might be expected. 

In contrast, the standing committee on social affairs, science and technology in releasing the Out of the Shadows at Last report in 2006 Out of the Shadows at Last  (closer to 500 pages and still with 116 recommendations), specifically developed recommendations for federal government and agencies to move the mental health agenda forward.  An update and report card on actions of this committee would seem to be warranted at this time. 

The strategy lacks in anything new.  With a stretch,  it does provide a better emphasis on rural and Aboriginal issues than most previous reports.  All in all, you may have been right to cringe at the thought of another mental health report and another bunch of diluted recommendations that will go onto the shelf. 

In the meantime, real credit goes to workers at the front line and consumers who have resulted in moving the mental health agenda along.  So to all Mental Health workers who continue to provide great service and fight for even better service, thanks.   May National Mental Health week be a celebration of how far you have brought our country.  

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