Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Stigma of Mental Illness

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) made public the results of a survey on Canadian attitudes toward mental health. And the results are not encouraging. Despite efforts by those working with people who have mental health difficulties (such as the public ad campaign run by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health that profiles prominent Canadians who have lived with mental health difficulties) the stigma of mental health persists.

The President of the CMA, Brian Day, stated, ""We are looking at the final frontier of socially acceptable discrimination. It's a national embarrassment." I happen to believe it is more than an embarrassment, it is harmful. This type of discrimination gives impetus to neighbourhood associations to act irresponsibly in attempting to deny housing to the homeless, and for politicians to exploit the vulnerable when they see fit. For example, the Conservative Party of Canada is now running an ad campaign targeting so-called "junkies". They are suggesting that people with serious addictions will be forced into residency (incarceration) in "rehab" programs. The Conservatives are able to get away with this type of rhetoric only because most Canadians don't know that drug addiction is a serious mental illness, and even if they did, they would demand that these people just simply, "get over it".

We have much work to do.

The positive message in this year's survey is that 72% of survey respondents felt that funding of mental illness programs should be on par with funding for physical illness. This is energy we can use.

Letter to the editor of KW Record here.

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