Mental Illness

LeClaire family’s tragedy has brought attention to the challenges facing the mental health care system. And the Canadian Psychiatric Association says that the needs of people diagnosed with a mental illness have been neglected for far too long.

What is the extent of the problem?

Mental illness makes up three of the top five reasons for which Albertans saw physicians in the year 1999-2000 (Alberta’s Health System – Some Performance Indicators, November, 2000).

Here is the list of top five reasons:

1. Neurotic disorder (e.g. anxiety, stress): 15 percent
2. Depressive disorders (e.g. depression): 15 percent
3. General symptoms: 14 percent
4. High blood pressure: 11 percent
5. Affective psychoses (serious mental illnesses): 9 percent

The 1946 constitution of the World Health Organization defines health as state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Mental hygiene means the science of maintaining mental health and preventing the development of psychosis (loss of contact with reality), neurosis (symptoms of hysteria, anxiety, obsessions and compulsions), or other mental disorders.

Mental illness is not new. The earliest known mental hospitals were established in the Arab world, in Baghdad (ad 918) and in Cairo. Through the ages the mentally challenged have been viewed with a mixture of fear and revulsion. Their fate generally has been one of rejection, neglect and ill treatment.

In 1993, a study showed that Canadian youth who experienced mental health problems were more likely to turn to other youth for help rather than to the mental health system. About 15 to 25 percent of teenagers have psychiatric problems; but only one in six gets any treatment.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) says that one in five Canadians can expect to experience a mental illness sometime in their lives. Sixteen percent of health care expenditures are spent to look after psychiatric disorders. Almost 4,000 people a year commit suicide. One in ten people at some point in their lives is seriously affected by depression, a leading illness among women 15 to 44 years old.

The CPA feels that inadequate funding is a big problem. For example, 40 percent of patients’ visits to family physicians are related to emotional issues, yet less than four percent of medical research funding is directed to psychiatric conditions in Canada.
The funding and policies relating to mental health needs to be geared to support and create evidence based patient care. But, the CPA says, this adage has not been applied to the mental health system. Many people feel that mental health remains a second-class cousin within the health care system.

What is the solution?

The CPA’s web site ( says, “The persistent stigma associated with mental illness and the challenges facing the mental health care system require a strong united voice both among those who work on the front lines and those who live with mental illness.”

If you feel that the mental health care system has failed you or your loved one then contact the Canadian Psychiatric Association through their web page listed in the previous paragraph or phone 613-234-2815 or fax 613-234-9857 and lend your support to help change attitudes about mental illness and to improve the system.

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