Thoughts from the Mental Health Discussion – By Angela

When our bodies feel sick, we go to the doctor. We expect we´ll feel better very soon after that.

For people suffering from mental illness, the solutions are often far more complex. For some, getting the help they need seems nearly impossible.

On March 19, Dr. Paul Garinkel, a practicing psychiatrist and former CEO of CAMH, and Elaine Flis, past Chair of the Margaret Frazer House, joined us to discuss the state of mental health treatment in Ontario-explaining how things have improved, but also, where serious problems remain.

Despite mental illness being quite common in our society, the issue is often neglected, Garfinkel said. Individuals suffering from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia often face discrimination. Proper treatment can be difficult to obtain, in part because those who it them fear the social stigma of being identified mentally ill. This stigma must be eliminated, Garfinkel argued. Only then can we provide people the quality of care they need.

How to break that stigma? Garfinkel asked us to consider three words: protest, education, and contact.   We should protest the poor treatment those with mental illness receive right now; we should educate ourselves and the public about the frequency of mental illness in the population; and we should make contact with those who have such illnesses, rather than avoiding them out of discomfort or fear.

Flis followed with a moving personal story about mental illness-her own. Flis suffered from bipolar disorder, which disrupted her sleeping patterns and her moods. At times she found herself too exhausted to perform even small tasks.

These issues had existed for Flis since she was young. In university she´d been diagnosed with depression, but due to the embarrassment she felt, she chose to ignore the problems. And so they worsened. Only with the support of family and friends was she able, finally, to move beyond her discomfort and seek treatment. Flis believes that, had she not finally addressed her illness, she´d have lost her job, and possibly her home. In time, it would have killed her.

Many of us in the audience wondered about the services our provincial government provides the mentally ill. Those services are quite modest, the speakers explained. And they often fall victim to budget cuts. So while we´re breaking stigmas, we need to pressure our policymakers to do their part.

Cuts to mental health services are an easy sell, but a bad idea. For all of us.

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