Saturday, October 4, 2008
Mental Illness – An Election Issue!
By Sheila Morrison, Freelance writer, Mental Health Advocate
Mental Illness Awareness Week is October 6-11. What does it mean to you? Chances are extremely high that either you, or someone in your family, has suffered not only with the frightening symptoms of illness, but the effects of any of the following: discrimination, social stigma, poverty, fear, loneliness, hunger, loss of work, criminalization, being locked up, homelessness, rejection, wrong treatments, no treatment, unaffordable treatment, and the bureaucratic restrictions on accessing a reasonable life.
Without a doubt there is some excellent work being done. For example, this week a handbook, written by Capital Health staff and family members, is being launched by Capital Health for families to answer their questions on how to access care for their family member who is experiencing a mental health problem. By the end of this year Capital Health will have launched a very user-friendly website for the public that will also direct you to resources and offer information. There are also many non-profit groups doing their share: The Mental Health Coalition of Nova Scotia, The Healthy Minds Cooperative, The Consumer Initiative Centre, The Empowerment Connection, Veith Street Gallery and Studio, Elizabeth Fry Society, Canadian Mental Health Association, The Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, Caregivers Nova Scotia, and dozens of others.
Money is an issue for all of them. Less than 4% of our provincial health budget goes to mental health and spending is declining. Nationally, mental [illness] drains our economy of 51 billion dollars annually. If you are sick and receive good care, the recovery rate is 80%. Yes, people do recover and lead productive lives. But only one fifth of those needing treatment receive adequate care. Heartbreaking.
When the federal candidates come to your door, ask them why are we the only G8 country without a mental health strategy and what will you do about it? Ask the provincial candidates what they will do to put in place the many recommendations from the many reports to improve mental health care in Nova Scotia. Ask your municipal candidates what happened to the Community Health Boards recommendations?
If you know someone who is ill, sit with them. Listen. Offer to go to an appointment with them. Invite them for dinner. Hug. Accept them for who they are and don’t offer advice you are unqualified to give. Don’t judge them. Above all remember that it is not that person’s fault. Tomorrow it could be you or your child or parent.
Mental illness is just that, an illness. The right to good care is a human rights issue that ultimately affects every one of us.