Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Survey shows mental illness now better understood

But more public education still needed

From today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By John Gillis, Health Reporter, and The Canadian Press

A new national survey shows Canadians’ attitudes toward mental illness are changing for the better, says the executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia.

The report, released Monday by the Canadian Medical Association and based on an Ipsos Reid survey, shows 75 per cent of Canadians disagree with the idea that people with mental illnesses could "just snap out of it" if they really wanted to and an overwhelming majority believe mental illness requires treatment by a health professional, said Stephen Ayer.

"What this report says to me is . . . people are becoming educated," he said. "This is good news."

The results also indicate Canadians believe the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses is underfunded and should be on par with funds allotted to diseases like cancer and diabetes.

In 2006-07, Nova Scotia spent less than four per cent of its health budget on mental health.

Mr. Ayer said the report underlines the importance of educating young people about mental illnesses. He said half of people who develop a mental illness begin to have symptoms by age 14.

Medications that help people cope with and recover from mental illness began to appear in the 1960s.

"In the past, it’s always been that if you got a mental illness, you were basically doomed to an asylum," Mr. Ayer said. "But that’s no longer the case. People are starting to recognize that."

A release accompanying the Canadian Medical Association’s eighth annual National Report Card on Health Care focused on some of the more negative attitudes found in the survey, including that 46 per cent of Canadians think some people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour.

Mr. Ayer called that question ambiguous, noting the responses were quite evenly spread across the scale used in the national survey.

Only half of those surveyed would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member suffering from a mental illness. That compares to 72 per cent who would openly discuss a diagnosis of cancer in the family.

"This year’s report card shines a harsh, and frankly unflattering, light on the attitudes we Canadians have concerning mental health," said Dr. Brian Day, president of the Canadian Medical Association.

"In some ways, mental illness is the final frontier of socially acceptable discrimination.

"Can you imagine the public uproar if mental health was replaced with race, gender or religion?"

The survey also found troubling attitudes toward people with drug and alcohol addictions, with less than half of respondents believing addiction is a mental illness.

Only one in five would socialize with someone who has a drug or alcohol addiction and less than five per cent would hire someone who has a drug or alcohol addiction.

"These figures show clearly the insidious stigma still associated with mental health and mental illness," Dr. Day said in a statement released with the report card.

"These are the attitudes that have kept mental health on the outside for far too long."

The mental health results, from an Ipsos Reid online survey of 2,024 Canadian adults, are considered accurate within 2.2 percentage points.

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s national conference begins Friday in Dartmouth.

Dr. David Goldbloom, a Toronto psychiatrist and vice-chairman of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, will give the keynote address called Stigma and Mental Illness: Past, Present and Future.

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