Mental health strategy a ‘call to action’

OTTAWA — Canada is about to get its first-ever national mental health strategy — a massive report that may persuade Prime Minister Stephen Harper that his government must return Ottawa to a lead role on health care.

OTTAWA — Canada is about to get its first-ever national mental health strategy — a massive report that may persuade Prime Minister Stephen Harper that his government must return Ottawa to a lead role on health care.

On Tuesday, after five years of research, consultations with thousands of people, modelling, forecasting and much agonizing, the Mental Health Commission of Canada will finally deliver the blueprint the Harper government requested.

The Canadian Press has learned that the strategy will launch a call to action targeted not just at the federal government, but also at provincial governments, health-care professionals, businesses, philanthropists and volunteers.

With more than 100 recommendations, the strategy will demand that they, and Canadians in general, set aside their preconceived notions of mental illness and face the fact that almost every family will be touched by mental health problems at some point.

Specifically, the blueprint wants federal and provincial governments to earmark nine per cent of their health spending for mental health — up from about seven per cent now. Governments should also draw two percentage points more from their social spending envelope for mental health needs.

It will call for a reconfiguration of health care services so that patients have better access to mental health professionals, community support, better funding, and appropriate medication.

It will emphasize recovery from mental illness, and urge for more prevention, especially when dealing with young people.

It will also stress the high cost of inaction. Mental health problems cost the Canadian economy at least $50 billion a year.

The report stops short of putting a dollar figure on what the federal and provincial governments should spend overall, since the fiscal squeeze at both levels of government has made any specific requests too sensitive, Ottawa insiders say.

Still, the recommendations have caught the eye of the Conservative government, numerous insiders say. And there is an acceptance at the federal level that Ottawa should be central in pushing the strategy forward — despite Harper’s recent insistence that health is better left to the provinces.

Whether the federal government will follow through with substantial financial support and national leadership, however, is another question.

“We have to have buy-in. There’s nothing that easy in health care,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, echoing a sentiment expressed by several stakeholder groups. “We need to see federal leadership on this.”

Gillian Mulvale is betting that the strategy will actually make a difference.

Mulvale is an Ottawa-based health policy analyst who plunged into post-partum depression two decades ago, and struggled for years to find the proper care, support and medication.

At first, she couldn’t even bring herself to call her doctor and admit something was wrong. Even after she did ask for help, she didn’t get it.

Then she miscarried, and found herself spiralling.

“I finally hit a point where I thought that everyone would be better off without me, if I were to leave,” she said in an interview at her office, where the walls are decorated with diplomas and motivational proverbs.

“And I planned, in my distorted thinking, that I would just get in the car and drive somewhere, and my husband would raise my children, and they would be much better off.”

Her husband urged her to get attention, but that only started a rocky journey of dealing with stigma, about 20 different kinds of drugs over the years, and multiple hospital stays in an effort to get access to psychiatric services.

“I would crash repeatedly. And when I crashed, it was very strong suicidal ideation.”

Mulvale persevered and has now fully recovered. She keeps herself well through yoga, inspirational reading, tai chi and hard work. But she is still wrestling with the stigma of having had a mental illness, cringing several times in the interview and wondering aloud if she was doing the right thing.

She agreed to come forward about her perilous trip in the hopes that by speaking, she will help overcome some of the stigma and bring attention to the many, many pitfalls in Canada’s mental health system.

“Stigma permeates everywhere,” she says haltingly. “It doesn’t matter what your profession is.”

Indeed, the strategy on Tuesday will speak to many of her concerns. It will tackle the lack of access to psychiatric services at the doctor’s office, sources confirm. It will also encourage peer support, community-based care and a patient-rights approach to care that balances medication and psychotherapy.

And it will urge authorities to start systematically counting and documenting how pervasive mental health issues really are, so that policy makers will eventually have to respond.

But will they respond?

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is expected to be present at the launch on Tuesday in Ottawa — a sign of her support. Harper has spoken out about the need to overcome stigma and improve mental health.

And federal officials are already contemplating ways to take action on — and put funding towards — suicide prevention. The strategy will lay out detailed recommendations in that area, including improving support for schools and families, screening for suicide risk at the doctor’s office, and addressing underlying risks such as poverty and vulnerable groups such as First Nations and older men.

Just Posted

Rebels drop home opener to Oil Kings

The Edmonton Oil Kings were simply better than the Red Deer Rebels… Continue reading

Orr wins UCP nomination

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA continues as UCP representative

RDC Kings topple Medicine Hat College Rattlers

Kings Matheus Alves scores twice in the win

Grassroots movement to clean up Red Deer is gaining momentum

Homeless people need more attention than shopping carts, says former councillor Cindy Jefferies

Improving life for people with Alzheimer’s and their families is a priority for Raitt

The federal Conservatives deputy leader is dealing with the disease in her own home

RDC Kings topple Medicine Hat College Rattlers

Kings Matheus Alves scores twice in the win

Nurse leads Canada over South Korea 82-63 at FIBA Women’s World Cup

TENERIFE, Spain — Kia Nurse poured in 29 points to lift Canada… Continue reading

Aretha Franklin exhibit debuts with eye toward her legacy

DETROIT — The Detroit museum that hosted Aretha Franklin’s public visitations after… Continue reading

‘Anaana’s Tent’ passes Inuit songs, legends, language to a new generation

In Pangnirtung, Nunavut, on the eastern tip of Baffin Island, Rita Claire… Continue reading

Housing data decision opens door to real estate innovation, say realtors

TORONTO — Realtor Daniel Steinfeld has wanted to post home sales data… Continue reading

Ty Long kicks winning field goal, Lions come back to beat Ticats in OT

VANCOUVER — Ty Long was eager for a special moment, and he… Continue reading

Indigenous eateries take centre stage in Canada thanks to increasing awareness

VANCOUVER — Since Paul Natrall started serving Indigenous cuisine from his Mr.… Continue reading

Canada’s capital region reeling after intense tornado rips through communities

OTTAWA — Parts of Canada’s national capital were still reeling Saturday after… Continue reading

Coaches, players on Alberta university rugby team buckle up for the Broncos

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — The head coach of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns… Continue reading

Most Read