I have a mental illness. Lots of talk about mental health care. Partners for Mental Health, a great organization asked for donations to help in their “efforts to build a brighter tomorrow for Canadians with mental health problems and illnesses, as well as their families.” Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign helps take away the stigma of having a mental illness by talking about it. That’s all well and good.

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Except talk won’t fix the problem. Money will. It’s not as if we don’t have it!

I come by my mental illness honestly. My father was bi-polar. His mother had some mental illness. There was talk of problems further back but no way to confirm it. I was diagnosed with chronic recurrent depression and now it seems I have increased anxiety. Looking back-and it’s a long way- I had terrible anxiety as a child that carried over into my teen years and then in my adult years. And reading about post-partum depression-I had that, too. But I was 50 before I was diagnosed.

When I was 50 I also had my first encounter with suicidal ideation. It is a dark and exhausting place to be. So much energy spent on finding reasons to live. Even when there are so many reasons to live. But going into that dark place-down into that abyss makes it so difficult to make sense of anything. I was fortunate. I was blessed with a wonderful doctor who quickly got me an appointment with a psychiatrist and I was put on medication. These interventions weren’t enough and as I wrote in my book Back to the Ethic:Reclaiming Western Values it was my rabbi who gave me the reason to live. My religion teaches that I am obligated to Choose Life!

I have had two more encounters with that siren call to end my life. I contacted my doctor-a different one as I have moved –and was placed on a list for a psychiatrist. It’s been more than 6 months, more suicidal ideation that I have fought, and still no appointment. This is mental health care in Ontario.

That I am still alive has to do with my ability to hang on because of my family and friends and my religious beliefs. Imagine what depression is like for young people. For children, like Amanda Todd, who have been bullied and fall into the darkness without life experience to keep them alive while they wait for help. Or never get diagnosed at all.  Think about the young people, like Sammy Yatim  who have died at the hands of the police because we ask the police to deal with mental illness. Or Ashley Smith who died while in custody. Then there was the rash of child suicide amongst our native children in Saskatchewan.  And the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat First Nation.

According to reports the police have responded to 23,000 calls from citizens suffering from mental illness up 11% from last year.Steve Lurie with the Canadian Mental Health Association said the increase is symptomatic of a larger problem with the current system.

“I think the fact that police apprehensions of people with mental illness is increasing is evident. It’s a symptom of the underfunding of mental health services in the last three years.”

And then there are our veterans. Unable to access mental healthcare in a timely manner and too often find they can’t afford it. We have once again witnessed the worst of lack of care with the apparent murder/suicide of Afghan war veteran Lionel Desmond and his family.

Canada is rated 30 in health care. We think of ourselves as so much better off than our southern neighbour-yet they are ranked 37.

When it comes to caring for the mentally ill we should be ashamed of ourselves. With all the money offered by the federal government for health care it comes down to reducing federal share of health care funding to 20 percent from 23 percent. The federal government also proposed a yearly increase of 3.5 per cent, below the 5.2 per cent sought by the provinces. The difference the two proposals is worth $30 billion to the provinces 

They did offer an extra $11.5 billion over 10 years for home care, mental health services and innovation. 

In June 2015 the Mood Disorders Society of Canada (MDSC) once again criticized Canada’s heath care system for underperforming when it comes to care for the mentally ill. 

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Not enough money is spent on mental health compared to other countries. We ignore  the impact of mental illness on a family and on the economy. 

In Ontario, the burden of illness from mental illness and addictions is more than 1.5 times that of all cancers and more than seven times that of all infectious diseases. Recent studies indicate the total direct and indirect costs of mental health problems and illnesses to the Canadian economy are at least $50 billion per year.  Yet Canada allocates only 7% of publicly funded health care spending to mental health which is considerably less than comparable countries such as Britain that devote 13% of health spending to mental illness.

And we ignore these frightening statistics:

-20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

-Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.

-Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.

-Surpassed only by injuries, mental disorders in youth are ranked as the second highest hospital care expenditure in Canada.

-In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them.

Instead of putting money into caring for some of our most vulnerable our Federal Government under the leadership of Justin Trudeau is caring for the world.

 “The Government has already made several decisions resulting in more than $5 billion on a cash basis being invested in activities that will allow Canada to make a real and valuable contribution to a more peaceful and prosperous world, including:$2.65 billion by 2020 on a cash basis, to address climate change in developing countries; more than $1.6 billion over three years, starting in 2016–17, towards security, stabilization, humanitarian and development assistance for Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon;$678 million over six years, starting in 2015–16, to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis and aid in the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees; and $100 million in 2015–16 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to help support critical relief activities in the region. 

The budget includes $586.5-million over three years from existing International Assistance Envelope (IAE) spending to the renewal of key peace and security programs, including up to $106.5-million for the International Police Peacekeeping and Peace Operations Program, $30-million for the Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program – Sahel Envelope and $450-million for the Global Peace and Security Fund.

Some of the Global Peace and Security Fund initiatives will focus on promoting pluralism, including religious freedom.

And The Canadian government will contribute more than $15 million to help train youth in eight African countries find good jobs.

There comes a time when we must find the balance between helping ourselves and helping others.

Rabbi Hillel a great Jewish sage wrote:

 “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”


Learn more about mental health care  dianebederman.com