Taking the next step for mental health

Mental health is an issue that affects everyone in this country. It's time we thought of it that way.

Canada needs a national suicide prevention strategy with directed federal funds, say medical journal editors at the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Welcome to 2010.

The CMAJ’s statement comes at an important time for mental health as last Saturday marked World Suicide Prevention Day by the International Association for Suicide Prevention, with the World Health Organization as co-sponsor. In 21 developed countries with government-led prevention programs, suicide rates dropped across all age groups, but especially in young people and older individuals, said Dr. Kirsten Patrick said in an editorial published in the CMAJ.

This is important for Canada where suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 34 with rates for Indigenous populations well above the national average. Notably, Canada remains the only developed country without a suicide prevention plan with concerted funds and actionable goals for reducing the rates of suicide across the country.

This should be alarming to you, but not exactly surprising. If you look up most of the statistics surrounding mental health issues in Canada and suicide, we’ve been citing the same ones for over a half a decade now. Twnety per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime; suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among those 15 to 24 years old. Of course, the most staggering statistic: only one in five children who need mental health services actually receive them in this country.

The statistics scream the question of why? Why in a country where everything else is modernized and socialized our healthcare system, education, retirement have we left out one of the most vital aspects of our everyday health and lifestyle? How could we forget this?

The answer to this is that we haven’t ignored this issue, at least not completely. Every year, since 2010, millions of Canadians have taken a day in January to talk about mental health issues while raising money in the annual #BellLetsTalk day. And that movement is, without a doubt, a positive improvement for society in Canada. People who are struggling with mental health issues depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders need to know that it’s OK not to be OK and that they have a safe avenue available to get help. With movements like this, the stigma associated with mental health issues can be somewhat expunged.

But that’s just the first step. Since 2010, Bell boasts that it has committed $100 million to mental health initiatives in Canada, but what has that accomplished? The statistics are still the same, the problem is still just as apparent, and we continue to see headlines about parents having to bury their own children come across the newswires everyday.

The reality is that for as much as we’ve pushed for mental health improvements in this country once a year, we forget about pushing our government to implement these changes the other 364 days of the year. We forget that mental health should be a popular topic throughout our everyday conversations in order to continue to live a healthy lifestyle in the pursuit of happiness.

Notably, that reality may soon be shifting. Under the new Liberal government, the percentage of the national healthcare budget allotted to mental health services is reported to be on the increase from 5.5 per cent to the neighbourhood of eight to 10 per cent. That’s a step.

The real step though will be ensuring that money is properly aimed at helping Canadians deal with their mental health issues, but more importantly, live with them. The real step will be in creating programs for people to get help if they need it and making the transition to getting help financially and socially acceptable.

That’s where the rubber hits the road.