Province’s silence on mental health leaves advocates fearing for the future

Posted on April 12, 2010 in Health Debates

Source: — Authors: – Ontario
Published On Mon Apr 12 2010.   By , Queen’s Park

In politics, as in detective stories, the most meaningful clue is sometimes the dog that doesn’t bark. And mental-health advocates in Ontario might be drawing nervous conclusions from the silence.

In the throne speech that kicked off the new legislative session last month, not a word about mental health.

In the recent provincial budget, with its large deficit, pay freezes and funding slowdowns, ditto.

Then last week, Health Minister Deb Matthews delivered what was billed as “a state of the nation address” on health care in Ontario.

And once again, mental health did not rate so much as a mention.

We are told not to make too much of this.

After colleague Carol Goar wrote a column recently suggesting momentum on a mental-health strategy had disappeared along with the minister’s predecessor David Caplan, Matthews dispatched a letter to the Star insisting it was still a priority for her government.

And she said after the speech that mental health “is very near and dear to my heart. My work on poverty reduction really demonstrated to me the toll that inadequate mental-health supports takes … I can assure you that my commitment to mental health is as strong as can be.”

It would be comforting, however, if the government’s major moments – or the major speeches given by the minister – said so.

To be sure, as Matthews notes, one of the most productive and non-partisan exercises currently underway at Queen’s Park is the select committee on mental health and addictions.

Last month, the committee issued an interim report that – in summarizing submissions it had received – gave voice to people it said “are so often ignored and stigmatized.”

What the committee learned was that mental illness is often complex and confounding.

It was told of the link between mental health and addictions and suicide – the 10th leading cause of death in the province.

It learned about depression, anxiety and other mood disorders, about autism spectrum disorders, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, perinatal mood disorders, schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis.

All of which fill the courts, the jails, the streets and the graveyards.

It noted that Michael Kirby, chair of the Senate committee when it released its mental-health report, “Out of the Shadows at Last,” called the children’s system the worst part of the mental-health system – “the orphan’s orphan within the health-care system.”

It said First Nations communities – owing to a history of oppression, the consequences of residential schooling, unemployment, isolation and other factors – frequently have multiple and complex needs.

It spoke of the rising incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia and that, with the aging of the Boomer generation, the incidence of such disease is expected to double over the next two decades.

It was told how crucial affordable, safe, supported housing is to mental health – and how dire is its shortage. It heard of the financial difficulty and emotional burnout experienced by family members who are usually the chief caregivers for those with mental illness and addictions.

“We are fully aware that there are significant problems with the existing mental health and addictions system, and know that expectations are high that changes will be made,” the report said.

What mental-health advocates know, however, is that if it’s easy to be ignored – the “orphan’s orphan” – during good times, it’s all the more likely during hard. What they also know is that governments are all too eager to advertise the things of which they’re proud.

The sounds of silence are usually reserved for problems they wish would go away or promises they hope folks forget about.

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