By Marvin Ross
Once again, while the horrific plight of the mentally ill is ignored by society, we’re told it is Mental Health Week in Canada. The purpose, I gather, is to help eliminate the shame and stigma of mental health. But what shame is there in health whether it is physical health or mental health. Everyone has both!
I guess it sounds less stigmatizing to say health but as I’ve written in the past:
Clearly, as a society, we need more than simply being aware of mental health once or twice a year. We need a time when we can reflect collectively on how inadequately we treat those among us who have a brain illness. And we need to lobby to right that wrong. The money spent on these awareness campaigns could be put to better use providing more services for those who desperately need them.
I originally wrote that in 2017 and then again in 2020 but the situation today is even worse than when I first wrote it. Now, there are so many homeless wandering the streets that I saw one panhandler the other day walk out and stand in the middle of a 4 lane road while the light was red to get attention. Normally, they stand on the sidewalk or just of the curb. Competition creates reckless behaviour I guess.
The shelters in Toronto are so full that I recently read the solution is to reduce the space between cots so more can be squeezed in. In Hamilton, city officials just realized that 9% of their affordable units are empty because they need to be renovated and it has not been done. They sit empty while people camp in parks. The vast majority of the homeless suffer with untreated mental illness as do many who are incarcerated.
At the start of Mental Health Week a few years ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated “Let us use our voices this week to help change the way society views mental health issues and those living with them. Now is the time to GET LOUD for mental health.”
I have no idea what that means or what good it will do. And what is an issue?
In an earlier blog, Dr David Laing Dawson explored that and pointed out that Dictionary definition of the word ‘issue’ includes:
“An important topic or problem for debate or discussion” – the operative portion of that definition being “for debate or discussion.”
He went on to say “by calling mental illness an issue we are placating the deniers of mental illness and we are reducing it to an abstraction, a topic for discussion and debate, rather than a reality in our midst, and often the actual cause of homelessness.”
He concluded with let’s stop with the “issue” when we are naming or describing a painful reality.
That reality is a lack of hospital beds, hospital stays that are too short to properly stabilize people, few if any community programs to help those discharged from hospital, forced poverty due to Dickensian disability allowances and an insufficient number of decent places for people to live. The trailer for a new film provides a glimpse into the reality that is being ignored by governments. See
The blog read most frequently out of everything we’ve done since 2014 is Dr Dawson’s The Decline of Mental Illness Treatment Since the 1980’s on. It is a depressing read when you realize how badly those with mental illness are treated by our society and health system. It explains the rise of homelessness, drug use and crime which does not need to happen. As psychiatrist Dr Sandy Simpson of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto said in an op ed in the Globe and Mail “We expect people troubled by addictions, mental illness and/or histories of trauma to live at 60 per cent of the poverty line and wait for months or years for the clinical services or housing that they need.”
Having an awareness week for mental health and an awareness day for schizophrenia later in May does nothing to resolve these problems. It is well known what needs to be done to improve the problem but governments refuse to do anything. Trudeau did appoint a mental health and addictions minister but that’s it. She has set up a committee to develop a standardized road map and standardized documents but I’m not sure what any of that means and I’ve attended a number of their meetings.
I keep asking if they are planning to look at mental illness but I’ve yet to get a straight answer as they talk about substance use and mental health and substance use and do not seem interested when I point out that there already exist practice guidelines on how these conditions should be best treated. Without resources, they cannot be properly treated. I’ll have more to say about this venture in the future.
Meanwhile, let’s not waste our time recognizing mental health week but focus our efforts on lobbying for improvements.