In Canada, the first week in May is designated “Mental Health Week,” and according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, the purpose is “to encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health”. We are encouraged to #getloud for mental health.
In the US, the entire month of May is devoted to “mental health”.
However, I have to say that I am perplexed about the reason we “celebrate” mental health in both Canada and the US. I assume we are celebrating, but I’m not really sure what we are celebrating or what we are doing.
What is not “celebrated” is our abysmal record on providing treatment and resources to those who suffer from serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and other illnesses. And note, I said illness not health. There is a difference. A poster circulating on the internet expresses the problem extremely well. It says:
Saying “Mental Health” for schizophrenia is like saying “Physical Health” for cancer
You can substitute serious mental illness for schizophrenia above.
Justin Trudeau had this to say at the start of the week, “Let us use our voices this week to help change the way society views mental health issues and those living with them. Now is the time to GET LOUD for mental health.”
And of course, he uses the word issue as in mental health issues. Hamilton psychiatrist, Dr. David Laing Dawson, discussed the use of the word issue in one of his blogs and commented that “by calling mental illness an issue we are placating the deniers of mental illness and we are reducing it to an abstraction, a topic for discussion and debate, rather than a reality in our midst….”
And he ended his blog by stating “But let’s stop with the “issue” when we are naming or describing a painful reality.”
The painful reality of mental illness in both the US and Canada is that we do not have enough resources like hospital beds, community treatment, housing, etc to provide the proper treatment that is currently available for these who suffer.
Readers of my blogs on Huffington Post know that many of them deal with the inadequate services that those with the most serious mental illnesses receive in Canada. It is hard to pick out one as so many of them deal with this problem. If we were to have a realistic group of people representing the faces of mental illness in Canada, we would have someone who is in solitary confinement in a prison and someone who is homeless.
One of Correction Services Canada’s top priorities is to deal with the mental health needs of its population. They estimate that 38% of incoming prisoners suffer with a mental illness. In his June 2015 report, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, Harold Sapers, found that “mental health issues are two to three times more common in prison than in the general community”.
In Ontario, the Globe and Mail recently analyzed the long-term solitary confinement of prisoners in Ontario and found that 40% were locked away for more than 30 or more straight days. This is twice the limit permitted by the UN in its Nelson Mandela Rules.
The Globe reported that:
On 40 per cent of the files, staff gave mental health or special needs as part of the justification for their prolonged segregation, a figure that seems to clash with provincial policy stating that segregation should never be used for inmates with mental illness until all other housing alternatives have been considered and documented.
In the US, a recent report disclosed that there at 10 times the number of mentally ill in prison than in state psychiatric hospitals. Most of them, the report states, would have been in psychiatric hospitals before they began to be closed. The largest mental hospital in the US is Cook County Jail in Chicago.
And what about homelessness? According to the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, surveys of various Canadian cities put the percentage of homeless who suffer from mental illness at between 23 and 67 per cent. Furthermore, “While mental illness accounts for about 10% of the burden of disease in Ontario, it receives just 7 per cent of health care dollars. Relative to this burden, mental health care in Ontario is underfunded by about $1.5 billion”.
Again, in the US, about one third of the homeless are people who suffer from untreated mental illness
In a 2015 survey done by the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, the top priority for the respondents (91 per cent) was the need to have greater access to professionals. Over one third (38 per cent) said that the wait for diagnosis was over 12 months. In the most recent tragedy that took place in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week, a 38 year old man was released from Burnaby, BC General Hospital where he had resided for three days due to suicidal thoughts. His mother had asked hospital staff to release him to her care but they did not do that. They gave him a bus ticket and sent him on his own. He committed suicide shortly after.
Clearly, as a society, we need more than simply being aware of mental health once or twice a year. We need a time when we can reflect collectively on how inadequately we treat those amongst us who have a brain illness. And we need to lobby to right that wrong. The money spent on these awareness campaigns could be put to better use providing more services for those who desperately need them.
First published in HuffPost
Incorporated in 1996 in the Canadian province of Ontario, the company was originally designed to provide writing and training services. Its principal, Marvin Ross, had been writing books, newspaper, magazine articles and teaching business communications since the late 1970’s. His first book was“Economics, Opportunity and Crime” but he quickly switched to humour with “Cover Your Ass or How To Survive in A Government Bureaucracy” using the pseudonym Bureaucrat X. David Shaw illustrated what became a very popular book in Canada.
He and Shaw went on to do “Daddy Dearest: A Guide for First Time Fathers”; “Sorry Daddy: A First time Father’s Guide” and “Reigning Cats and Dogs: A Lighthearted Look at Pets and Their Owners”.
Ross then switched to more serious topics with books on Alzheimer’s, eyes and other medical and health writing for a variety of papers and eventually websites. He has covered many medical conferences to report on new advances in cardiology, cancer, digestive diseases, respiration and neurology and psychiatry. His specialized services have been used to develop continuing medical education programs for physicians and to write summarizes of medical meetings.
In 2008, he decided to publish his own book on Schizophrenia which had the subtitle Medicine’s Mystery – Society’s Shame. That book has received considerable praise in both North America and Europe and Ross found himself quickly learning about the publishing industry. As a result, Bridgeross switched its focus from writing to publishing.
Bridgeross quickly developed interest from authors wishing to write about serious mental illness many of whom have submitted proposals. To date, Bridgeross has accepted and published a number of highly recommended titles in that subject matter – one by a mother discussing her fight to help her daughter; three by people with schizophrenia (an artist, a psychologist and a neuroscientist), one by a mother with schizophrenia co-written with her daughter and a memoir on a family of 10 working together to help a sibling with schizophrenia who died of lung cancer.
Other titles include the fiction and non-fiction works of David Laing Dawson (a Hamilton psychiatrist); and a memoir of growing up as the child of Holocaust survivors.
Three of the Bridgeross books have been listed as among the top books on schizophrenia by US psychiatrist, E Fuller Torrey, in his latest edition of the classic Understanding Schizophrenia A Manual For Families. The three titles are Schizophrenia Medicine’s Mystery Society’s Shame by Bridgeross publisher, Marvin Ross, After Her Brain Broke: Helping My Daughter Recover Her Sanity by Susan Inman, and Dr. Carolyn Dobbins’ What A Life Can Be: One Therapist’s Take on Schizoaffective Disorder.
Mr Ross, the publisher, Torrey describes as “one of the leading Canadian advocates for individuals with serious psychiatric disorders.”
Previously, healthyplace.com, an award winning metal health website based in San Antonio, listed 2 of the above 3 books as must haves for people with serious mental illnesses. Two of them are After Her Brain Broke and What A Life Can Be. The other is My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery From Mental Illness by Sandra Yuen MacKay. Sandra was named the Courage to Come Back winner in mental health in BC in 2012 and was one of the five Faces of Mental Illness in Canada.
Bridgeross only does two or three titles a year but is always interested in e-mail submissions with an outline of the proposed book rather than a completed manuscript.
A native Torontonian, Ross is now located in the historic town of Dundas, Ontario just west of Hamilton, Ontario (and now amalgamated with that city) located half way between Toronto and the US border. He is a short distance from McMaster University with its world class medical school and the alma mater to such well known comics as Eugene Levy, Martin Short and Ivan Reitman.
He also managed to write and co-write two books on Hamilton. “Hamilton: A New City for a New Millennium” and “The Hamilton Book of Everything” with Kim Arnott and Cheryl McDonald.