Friday, June 12, 2015

The Global Burden of Mental Health

With reports of mental illness being on the rise in Canada, naturally you would think the proper finances are being correctly allotted into programs that are suppose to be there to help cope with the global burden we are facing. Mental illness is a leading cause of disability in Canada, constituting more then 15% of the burden of diseases however, it receives LESS then 6% of  health care dollars.1 With that minuscule percentage being invested into mental health, it is no wonder why people feel their needs are not being met when they seek out assistance, both adults and youth alike.

Did you know that 70% of mental health problems appear during childhood and adolescence, with youth aged 15 to 24 being more likely to experience mental illness and addiction compared to any other age group? 2,3 With those high statistics, it is of no surprise to hear that suicide is the second leading cause of death after accidents in Canada amongst our youth today.

As you can see, it is imperative for our government to invest more into the mental health budget, specifically in early invention. If 70% of mental illnesses manifest during youth, then it's only logical to start there. By providing proper treatment and support sooner, many youth will have a better chance at recovery in the future and go on to live meaningful lives. However, if the help is not accessible, then many of these youth will fall through the cracks and things will compound for them as they become adults.

When a mental health condition is not treated properly, there is a high percentage of suicide, substance abuse, and risk taking behavior just to name a few. Individuals who struggle try to find anyway to cope with their symptoms even if it is a poor choice- it is about getting by and surviving in the moment. Many adults who struggle with their mental health are less likely to be employed, with unemployment rates being as high as 70 to 90% for those who are severely affected. 4

So, if mental illness is this prevalent in our society, then why are we continuing to hear horror stories about the government continuing to cut funding for programs? How many more people are we going to hear of being turned away from mental health services and the emergency room? How many more deaths by suicide are there going to have to be before the government finally realizes the impact that mental illness has on our society. When you hear your own medical doctor frustrated by the lack of advocacy they can do on your behalf at mental health services, then you know that things are not looking very hopeful. It is your personal right to have timely access to all health services offered across Canada, whether it be for physical or mental health.

Right By You

If more funding is not allotted for mental health, then according to the World Health Organization, by 2030 we could see mental illness becoming the number one disease burden across the globe. The government has the power to change this foreshadowing prediction and make access to better care come to pass. It is up to us to advocate for change  and to stand up for the right to access qualitative care while being treated as an individual rather than an illness. We need to stand up for what we believe in and become a broken record until someone hears us.

People who are in power are great places to start as long as you are very persistent in the process and determined to see change come to pass. In my experience, it takes a few tries to find the right person who will listen and actually want to help. Don't give up as the future depends on you to change how things are heading. Great places to start advocating for change in the mental health system would be your government officials, local papers, and local television stations. In my experience, you have to go bigger than the local mental health services manager to make any difference if you want change to come to pass.

When speaking out, remember that you are not going to be the only one to benefit. You are also advocating for others- for the child who was turned away from the ER and deemed not "severe" enough to be hospitalized, the woman who so desperately needed immediate support for postpartum depression but it was not available, and for the man who died shortly after being tasered by police while experiencing severe mental health symptoms. These are real examples of Nova Scotians who they fell through the cracks and the system failed miserably. This is a serious issue where money needs to be invested instead of cut!
1 Institute of Health Economics (2008). How much should we spend on mental health?
2 Government of Canada (2006). The human face of mental health and mental illness in Canada.

3 Statistics Canada (2013). Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health.
4 Dewa and McDaid (2010). Investing in the mental health of the labor force: Epidemiological and economic impact of mental health disabilities in the workplace.

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