By Marvin Ross
Mental health awareness week/month/whatever is designed, in part, to reduce the stigma towards what is called mental health issues and problems – a politically correct phrase. One commenter on my last post that was skeptical of mental health awareness pointed out that stigma prevents people from seeking treatment. “If more individuals with mental differences (a politically correct phrase if ever I’ve heard one) seek help, they will be less likely to commit crimes, or end up homeless.”
Let’s say that’s true. All those people who were afraid of stigma actually began to seek help. Where would they find it?
They won’t because It is not there!
As I pointed out in my blog on Mental Health Awareness, the Mood Disorder Society of Canada found that 91% of people who were seeking help in Canada wanted to have greater access to professionals. Over one third had to wait for over a year to get a diagnosis.
This past winter, a 17 year old girl was discharged from an Ottawa hospital still suicidal after spending 8 nights in the emergency room waiting for a psychiatric bed. That same month, the emergency room in the Ontario city of Guelph was at a standstill because they had a psychiatric bed shortage. There were over 10 people in a psychiatric crisis with no beds for them. In Vancouver, a man is discharged from hospital early and given a bus ticket. Within an hour, he jumps off a bridge.
Inuk artist, Beatrice Deer has recently complained that “it was difficult to get therapy, because there weren’t any therapists,” as she pleads for a state of emergency to deal with suicides
In the US, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration reported that only 35% of the reasons given for failing to seek help was because of what we could call stigma – negative opinions from others was at 10.6% and negative impact on jobs was 9.5%. The absolute biggest reason was that they simply could not afford to get help at 45.4%. A little over a quarter thought they could deal with the problem on there own.
What if the US had universal health care like other industrialized countries and cost was not an issue? From everything that I’ve read, they do not have sufficient resources. The Treatment Advocacy Center has begun a national campaign to lobby for more psychiatric resources in that country.
In Canada, we do have universal health care. Psychiatric services and hospital stays are free. The problem is that we do not fund psychiatric care to the same extent as we do other illnesses. In my last blog, I cited this from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto:
While mental illness accounts for about 10% of the burden of disease in Ontario, it receives just 7 per cent of health care dollars. Relative to this burden, mental health care in Ontario is underfunded by about $1.5 billion.
The provincial auditor in British Columbia has just released a report pointing out that mentally ill people in that province need more services than they are getting now.
So, let’s forget about stigma and focus on getting proper funding for those who suffer from mental illness. A mental illness is no less worthy than cancer, heart disease or any other illness.
It’s time for parity.