There is no health without mental health

Posted on August 9, 2012 in Health Policy Context

Source: — Authors: , , , – opinion/editorialopinion
26 July 2012.   Carol Lambie, Glenna Raymond, George Weber, Catherine Zahn

As Canada’s premiers meet on the East Coast to discuss a sustainable health-care system for all Canadians, mental health must be included. This year Canada finally joined G7 nations with the release of our first national mental health strategy. Now, federal and provincial governments must work together to implement the recommendations.

The facts are clear. Mental illness and addictions have a staggering impact on individuals and on society. This year, 6.7 million Canadians will feel the pain of that impact. The economic costs of these illnesses are over $50 billion annually or 2.8 per cent of GDP. The Public Health Agency of Canada recently reported that among the seven major health conditions, mental illnesses had the highest total direct care costs in Canada and were the third leading contributor to the total annual economic burden of the seven conditions.

Our youngest citizens are at great risk. Over 70 per cent of adults report that their mental health problems began in childhood or early adolescence. The second leading cause of death among young people today is suicide, and for aboriginal youth that number is seven times higher than for non-aboriginal youth.

People do not seek care because of the stigma and prejudice associated with mental illness. When they try to find help, they experience barrier after barrier. The mental-health-care system is under-resourced. There is no network of care providers, and the educational initiatives that drive evidence based practices are inadequate. Patients and their families are left to navigate the maze with little or no support. The over-representation of people with mental illness in our justice system is unconscionable. Without clear pathways to care, some are finding their way in through jails. All of these problems are magnified in small and remote communities. This situation is not tolerated in other areas of health care.

We can do better.

Prevention is key. Health promotion initiatives need to include mental health promotion and it needs to take place in our homes, schools and workplaces. Health care professionals need the tools and resources to address the mental health of their patients. Access to the right services, treatments and supports is critical. Getting the right care at the right time and in the right place is a common mantra in health care — the challenges here for mental health care are enormous. The sector must be resourced to meet the demands. Access for people with mental illness must also include access to housing, education and income supports — critical components to recovery. We need to work with Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis populations to ensure their mental health needs are met and they can participate fully in Canadian society.

The recently released strategy called for an infusion of $4 billion annually. Governments at all levels must heed this call for increased investment in the mental health system.

Canada’s mental health strategy was aptly titled “Changing Direction, Changing Lives”. Those of us working in the mental health sector take that as a mandate. Together, we believe that this is an opportunity to truly change direction and change the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

Carol Lambie is president and CEO of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. Glenna Raymond is president and CEO of the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences. George Weber is president and CEO of The Royal Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. Catherine Zahn is president and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

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