Stopping the silent suffering of mental health ills

Knowledge about mental health and mental disorders has always been far behind those of medical problems. The stigma attached to mental illness has been a significant barrier to recovery, to seeking a health care professional, to receiving treatment or diagnosis, low self-worth and feelings of hopelessness, and decreased employment.

People who suffer from mental illnesses are often placed at a disadvantage due to limited funding, stigma, and discrimination attached to mental illness, lack of understanding of mental illness and subsequent limited quality social support.

A 2009 survey done by Time to Change, an anti-stigma campaign for England, asked more than 2,000 people if having a mental illness would be a barrier to employment and found that more than half of those who were questioned (56%) indicated that they would likely not employ someone with a mental illness. This finding is undoubtedly very upsetting.

Canadians with the greatest mental health needs are also especially found to underutilize psychological services. This is often due to lack of understanding of symptoms or stigma attached to mental illness. In Canada, one individual out of five will experience a mental disorder at any one time. Mental illness includes several types of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions, and eating disorders. Millions of people suffer in silence and isolate themselves from the community and their social support groups, including family, friends, or colleagues.

Just like medical illnesses, no one is immune to mental health problems.

The costs associated with mental health disabilities are also higher than those of physical related disabilities. Most recent data have shown the estimated annual health care costs being within the $51 billion Canadian. This is because mental health problems are associated with decreased productivity at work, increased absenteeism, increased risk of accidents, relationship conflicts at work, burnout, increased job turnover rates sick leave, and short-term and long-term disability.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Toronto, has become the world’s largest hospital campaign for mental illness and addictions with the campaign recently raising $108 million raised. Bell Canada has made a historic donation of $10 million gifts to the CAMH Foundation, which is the largest corporate gift to mental illness in Canadian history.

I was delighted at the opportunity to be one of the CAMH Ambassadors to the CAMH Foundation’s Fourth UnMasked Event on May 11th, 2011, which is one of the signature fundraising events that brings together leaders from business, philanthropy, health, entertainment and the arts in support of CAMH. Everyone present at the UnMasked Event and all the supporting sponsors showed such amazing support for work in mental health, were so generous and showed a profound commitment to, and involvement with, CAMH and its foundation.

The millions raised by the Foundation is such exciting news as it shows how far we have come to increase awareness, knowledge and recognition of mental illness and to combating the stigma. This sentiment was echoed by CAMH President and CEO, Dr. Catherine Zahn, speaking about Bell at the donation presentation saying, “You’ve taken a courageous stand on the subject of mental illness and your ongoing support will continue to shift attitudes and perceptions in a positive direction.”

The Bell donation represents several general issues in mental health according to Dr. Ash Bender, Clinic Head, Work, Stress and Health Program at CAMH:

Putting stigma aside and generating a renewed interest in rebuilding the mental health system;
Need for community-oriented services and infrastructure, rather than the historical “asylum” model;
These needs are relevant to all, including government, corporations, families, and individuals with the goal of preventing lost opportunity due to illness.

The funding of the redevelopment will also help CAMH offer specialized services for those most in need, including the Intergenerational Wellness Centre. This center will house CAMH’s Geriatric and Child Youth and Family Programs, including 12 new beds for youth between the ages of 14 and 18 who are dealing with both addictions and mental health issues, a vulnerable and high-needs group. These are the first dedicated beds of their kind in Canada and reflect CAMH’s commitment to extending high-quality care to under-serviced groups.

With the millions raised by the CAMH Foundation by such generous donors and supporting sponsors, there is increased confidence and hope that we are moving towards the pathway of further reducing the stigma attached to mental illness, raising awareness of mental illness, reducing the suffering in silence and encouraging people to seek help, saving the lives of those who suffer from addiction and mental health problems, promoting health and reducing health care costs.