Carolyn Bennett · VIEWS December 1st, 2014

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We have to do better

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As we wish everyone Happy Holidays, we must redouble our efforts to raise awareness, eliminate the stigma and provide optimal support for those who already feel that it is unlikely 2015 will turn out to be happy at all.

Too many Canadians are suffering from clinical depression alone, and too many Canadians are desperate because they are feeling powerless to help a family member or loved one who is suffering from a serious mental illness, which is made even more difficult when they are refusing to admit that they need professional help.

With the shooting of Cpl. Cirillo at the National War Memorial in Ottawa our country became very aware of the how dangerous untreated mental illness can be in our communities. It was shocking to find out that even the Parliamentary precinct was not immune.

“What we should be talking about is the dismal state of mental healthcare in our country,” stated Andrea Polko, Cpl. Cirillo’s girlfriend. “What that deeply disturbed man killing my boyfriend should make Canadians focus on is how we prevent another event like this through more accessible and effective mental health treatment programs that target the real source of this tragedy.”

We have to do better.

Canadians have come to better understand the devastating effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Brave Canadians like Romeo Dallaire and James Bartleman have put a human and dignified face to the symptoms and the signs and the life-long struggle of those suffering from PTSD. We now better understand that PTSD can happen to some people after a traumatic event or natural disaster.

We are all looking out for our staff and colleagues who were witnesses to the terrible events on Parliament Hill. While most people will have adapted to this tragic event with support from family, friends and co-workers, we know that some may need extra and effective professional assistance if they continue to struggle with their emotions. As has been demonstrated by Dr. Stan Kutcher, director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Mental Health, all of us, regardless of occupation, place of employment or geographic location, can learn to be able to identify friends, family members and co-workers who are struggling and know where to take them for the professional help they may need. It is clear that increasing the mental health capacity of our communities may lead to positive, instead of negative, outcomes.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our criminal justice system. According to a recent report from the correctional investigator, Correctional Services delivered at least one institutional mental health service to 48.3 percent of the total inmate population in 2011-12. In addition, of the 90 percent of newly admitted offenders who were screened for potential mental health problems, nearly two thirds were flagged for follow-up mental health care.

Two years ago I was inspired by an event organized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the Native Canadian Centre where holocaust survivors and survivors of residential schools were joined by their families to discuss the intergenerational trauma that has affected their children and grandchildren. All Canadians need to hear their stories and better understand their reality.

As the former Minister of State (Public Health) and as the Liberal critic for Aboriginal issues, I have been impressed by the wisdom of medicine wheel. It is essential that a focus on wellness (health) be seamlessly integrated with modern medicine (health care). As Tommy Douglas envisioned, we need a focus on keeping people well, not just patching them up when they get sick.

In 2005, when we were drafting the Health Goals for Canada, we captured the ideals of the medicine wheel in the overarching goal: “As a nation, we aspire to a Canada in which every person is as healthy as they can be — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

Recently, the Mental Health Commission of Canada has challenged all Members of Parliament to be host to a “conversation” about mental health: 308 conversations! We are proud that the St. Paul`s conversation will take place 1–4 p.m. on Jan. 18 at Christ Church Deer Park (Elliot Hall), 1570 Yonge St.

Please join us then. We need your help to shape a comprehensive mental health strategy for Canada. We have to do better. Thank you, merci beaucoup, miigwetch.