When my husband sent me a link to a report that mental health care in Canada needed improvement, I responded with an amusing, “Well, obviously” GIF. I mean, duh. Was he going to send me a report that water is wet?
But as obvious a statement as it was, there was nothing amusing about it. I should know. I collect mental illnesses like some people collect baseball cards. I live with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, OCD, dysthymia, and a complication of dysthymia called double depression. I’m well-versed in living with mental illness in Canada.
I’m not alone in this struggle. In any given year, about 1 in 5 people will experience mental health difficulties, and by age 40, about 50% of people will have had an experience with mental illness. Considering that gigantic number, it’s no wonder people are pushing for an increase in funding for mental health in Canada.
That’s not to say Canada’s not making an effort. The federal government committed to a $5 billion investment over 10 years to be put towards mental health and addiction. Stigma-reduction efforts have made it less taboo for Canadians to seek help. Workplaces have become more accommodating. Social programs exist.
But we are still falling behind.
Our 7.2% investment in mental health spending pales in comparison to most other developed countries. Currently, 1.6 million Canadians report their mental health needs are not being met. Every day in Canada, 12 lives are lost to suicide, and that number is rising.
Each person who dies by suicide is more than a statistic. They are human beings whose lives matter, and cannot be dismissed. There is no acceptable threshold for lives lost to suicide before we take action. This week, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths from suicide sent shock waves through many of us. But while their deaths were shocking because we didn’t expect it, suicide as a cause of death is not. We know it exists. Most of us know someone who has been affected by it directly. Many of us have considered it ourselves.
But addressing problems with mental health care isn’t just about suicide prevention. It’s about the quality of life for those living with mental illness. When people say they struggle with mental illness, they mean exactly that. It’s a struggle. It affects every aspect of their lives and makes every single thing they do more difficult.
One of the things that makes providing adequate mental health care difficult is that mental illness has such a vast spectrum.
When I was in university, a group of psychology students were conducting a survey for a report on mental illness. One of the questions was, “Would you allow someone with mental illness to watch your child?” It was an impossible question to answer with just those parameters. At the time, I worked at a daycare and I suffered from mental illness, so clearly I thought suffering from mental illness did not preclude caring for children. But I certainly wouldn’t allow people with many other forms of mental illness caring for children.
“Mental illness” is too big an umbrella for generalizations.
Some people can get by. I’m one of those people. I can function. I can hold down a job and care for my children. I’m not a danger to myself or others. To speak with me, you’d never know I suffer from mental illness. But make no mistake, it is a battle. Everything I do runs through the depression and anxiety filter. It affects the way I make decisions. It affects the way I view the world. Before I make any move or accomplish any feat, I must first fight off the illness and clear a path.
And I am one of the lucky ones, as far as mental illness goes. I have a good life otherwise. I can manage my illness enough to make it work. Others are less privileged. Many face difficult life circumstances in addition to mental illness. Or their illness makes it difficult for them to function or live an independent life. Some require full-time care. Many are written off by society as “crazy” and viewed as dangerous or without value to society. They are feared, mistreated, or ignored completely.
It’s not enough to say, “Let’s throw money into mental health.” What are we going to do? How are we going to help those who need intense treatment regain some of their dignity and autonomy? How will we give them agency over themselves and their lives while ensuring their safety?
How will we improve the quality of life for those who are suffering in relative silence because they appear “too functional to be ill”?
How will we recognize the extent in which mental illness permeates our society and influences the daily activities of so many of its members?
I can’t pretend I know the answers. If I knew what worked, I’d seek that help for myself. I just know that our current efforts aren’t working well enough, and that I need, we all need, the powers that be to invest more money, and more than money, into our well-being.
When people with mental illness function at their best, society at large functions better too.
And honestly, when it comes right down to it – we’re worth it.