Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Provincial Liberal Party Leader Dwight Ball has been putting a real focus on the need to address mental illness.

In nearly every speech that I have heard the future premier give over the past three months he has spoken about the need to treat mental health like physical health.

Ball is certainly passionate about the issue that plagues so many of us. While at this point, his plan to enhance mental health care accessibility, particular in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, needs more detail, he is doing a great job of breaking the stigma attached to mental illnesses.. There definitely are problems with how we (as a society) deal with mental health issues.

His effort to re-frame the way we think about mental health, to discuss it like we would a physical illness is positive. I recently saw this cartoon by Robot Hugs in an article on The Huffington Post that displays what it would be like if we discussed physical illnesses in the same way we do mental illnesses.

My concern is that by suggesting that we treat people with one type of ailment  better than the other one sets up a competition for scarce resources. Society and government health care providers need to treat mental and physical health consumers much better than they do now, but we shouldn’t treat people with mental illnesses the way we treat people with physical ones.

There is a huge lack of access to mental health treatments in this province. That deficit is even more pronounced in rural areas and within certain demographics. Timely access to good services is only part of the equation. There needs to be a concerted effort in our communities, our workplaces, our schools and in our relationships to focus on prevention by stopping stress from turning into mental health distress.

While access to psychologists and psychiatrists can be difficult, wait lists are long for those without the financial means. Many of those facing mental illness are diagnosed and treated by their doctors. Any plan to address mental illness must focus on supporting primary care practitioners to deliver the best mental health services possible. This means ongoing education training on best practices. 

Sure people need to understand that people suffering from mental illness are not too lazy or weak to shake themselves clear of the rut and the torture that has been inflicted on them. Depression for example, like the flu or cancer, can not be wished away.  It takes treatment, concern, compassion, understanding and a level of care to address. 

Mental illness is not just “in your head” or not real, it is an acute condition, that  that, like many physical ailments, can be cured with timely intervention and proffessional services.

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