Tackling mental health head-on

[attach]5353[/attach]Years ago, after I finished my residency in family medicine, I worked in Sydney, Australia. For nine months, from October to May, I worked for a doctor replacement service and an organization that made house calls evenings and weekends. I remember that I’d promised myself if I was ever away from home for the holiday season, I’d volunteer to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day so others could be with their families. I had a romantic view. I had visions of being invited into people’s homes. I would examine the febrile child and spare them the trip to the hospital. The holiday shifts would be filled with grateful patients and maybe the odd holiday cookie.

Oh my; I was wrong!

Those days were brutal. Lonely people in dingy apartments all alone. Often they’d had too much to drink. But often, too, they were crying in their beer, as we say. The holiday season seemed to aggravate their loneliness and put their lives in stark contrast with the loving families singing around the hearth images from the cards and the ads.

Social isolation is as harmful to human health as smoking. Depression can be deadly. Serious mental illnesses require support and understanding as well as ongoing treatment.

Last fall, on Oct. 4, Bob Rae decided to use our opposition day in the House of Commons to call on the government to develop a National Suicide Prevention Strategy. That day of debate has been cited in some of the year-end panels as one of the highlights of this 41st Parliament; MPs from all sides of the House speaking from their hearts about how mental health problems and suicide have affected their lives, and about the need to work together across party lines, and across jurisdictions, to deal with this preventable tragedy. John McKay’s poignant speech about the struggles his son has had with mental illness surprised and touched us because of the candour and the wrenching impotence that parents feel when there is no magic wand to make someone healthy.

I spoke about my own experiences as a family doctor and the challenge in our aboriginal communities [url][/url]

We believe we need to follow up this important beginning with the real work that would describe what an effective National Suicide Prevention Strategy would look like. It needs to be a real strategy — what, by when and how.

The Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention has an excellent Blueprint National Suicide Prevention Strategy. On Jan. 22, at Holy Rosary Parish Hall at 2 p.m., we will meet with their experts, as well as experts from CAMH and the Canadian Mental Health Association, to build upon their excellent work. Please join us for our Town Hall on debunking mental health myths to begin the work on the role stigma plays as an obstacle in Canadians getting the help they need to get and stay well. There are concerns the Mental Health Commission’s draft Strategy for Mental Health available at [url][/url] deals almost exclusively with a recovery model and doesn’t address the needs of those with severe mental illness. It is essential we hear all the concerns and then advocate making both the Suicide Prevention Strategy and the Mental Health Strategy as relevant and effective as possible. Mental health issues affect all of us; we want to make sure St. Paul’s will be able to be meaningful in contributing to identifying the problems and shaping a real plan for all aspects of mental health.