Canada to get blueprint for mentalhealth strategy

OTTAWACanada is about to get its firstever 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 healthcare 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 9 per cent of their health spending for mental health up from about 7 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 healthcare 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 And there is an acceptance at the federal level that Ottawa should be central in pushing the strategy forward despite Harpers 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 buyin Theres 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 Ottawabased health policy analyst who plunged into postpartum depression two decades ago and struggled for years to find the proper care support and medication

At first she couldnt even bring herself to call her doctor and admit something was wrong Even after she did ask for help she didnt 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 Canadas mental health system

Stigma permeates everywhere she says haltingly It doesnt 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 doctors office sources confirm It will also encourage peer support communitybased care and a patientrights 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

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is expected to be 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 doctors office and addressing underlying risks such as poverty and vulnerable groups such as First Nations and older men

Provincial health authorities are constantly struggling to cover healthcare costs and mental health is often at the bottom of the list the poor cousin of the health care system says Mulvale

But even though she is worried that governments will look at their tight budgets and not give the strategy much attention she says government funding and policy is only part of the answer

I think its far more complex than what government can do alone I think there is much that government can do there is much that the health care system can do but there is much that every single one of us can as Canadians can do and thats changing attitudes and being open she says

I think that people with mental health problems and illnesses as much as I recognize how difficult it is to do we need to talk about it

Date : 05 May, 2012
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