This past month and the beginning of February has seen mental health awareness at the forefront of conversations in the media and in the halls of Humber College.
The fifth annual Bell Let’s Talk campaign took place on Jan. 28 and continues to serve as a platform for celebrities, athletes, and everyday individuals who suffer from mental illness to have their voices heard. Subsequently, Humber kicked off its Mental Health & Wellness Fair with #HUMBERiwill. The college has committed the month of February as Mental Health month.
When the voices of individuals are combined with an inspirational spokesperson like Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, the impact of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign can be seen as a positive step towards ending the stigma that is associated with mental health. By creating a donation system based on customer use of texts and social media messages, Bell and its customers raised more than $6 million this year and have now raised a grand total of $73.6 million.
However, these efforts create a small impact on mental health as core issues with the system remain cyclical if the root causes of it are not addressed. Without having the tools that are needed to guide a person through a depressive episode or a mental breakdown, people with mental health issues will continue in a pattern of destructive behaviours that we as a society are not capable of treating and managing.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada 2010-11 reported that mental health cost the Canadian economy $50 billion a year. In the next 30 years, the commission estimates that the total cost to the economy will have reached $2.5 trillion. With rising numbers of people suffering with mental illness, we can’t expect Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to treat, reintegrate and follow through with every single patient even in our city alone.
Statistics from CAMH show that currently two out of three people will experience some form of mental illness. According to its 2013 survey, 230,000 adults in Ontario seriously contemplated suicide, 7.5 per cent of Ontarians are using antidepressants and 8.9 per cent are using anti-anxiety medications.
Additionally, more resources and long-term care is needed in order to assist those suffering with mental health issues.
Many programs are offered by CAMH to assist individuals suffering from mental illness, but these individuals are only allowed to enroll in one assistive program. Upon completion of the program, the patient is no longer eligible for additional services.
This lack of post-treatment care is a huge problem. Having assistance after treatment could greatly benefit individuals seeking to reintegrate themselves into society.
If we don’t talk about mental health as a long-term health concern we are going to fail those who need help. As someone who has suffered from mental health concerns, this problem is of the utmost importance to me personally, and the society I live in.
There certainly are places that offer help to those that actively seek assistance, like the Self Help Alliance in Kitchener-Waterloo. Hours of operation restrict availability to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and while the facility offers assistance covering a variety of assistive support, it is not set up to handle medical emergencies.
Other programs in and around Toronto can take up to a year to get into. Not to mention the outrageous cost in gaining access to some of these facilities. Some places will not take in new patients without doctor referral or a confirmed mental health diagnosis.
Relying on the willingness of a person to seek assistance fails the individuals with mental health issues. A parent of a depressed child does not always have the right to enter their child into a program and sometimes the costs associated with the help that is needed is beyond what a parent can afford. We are ignoring a large demographic of society if we expect people to pay for their mental health care. More and more people will continue to fall through the cracks if we continue on this path.
The conversation we’ve begun in February is a start, but only that – an initial step in the long journey Canadian society must take to address mental illness.