Investing in broken minds
A “note to parents” appeared on Robert Munsch’s website in 2010. “ Several years ago,” the children’s storyteller wrote, “I was diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive and manic-depressive. Those challenges have led me to make some big mistakes. I hope that everyone will talk to their kids honestly, listen to them, and help them do their best with their own challenges.”
Munsch is to be commended for risking personal vulnerability by baring his soul in such a public forum. One’s admiration for him can only be greater today than ever before. His transparency about an illness that is all too often still regarded with a stigma is refreshing, and bodes well for the future.
The 2011 Newfoundland and Labrador budget, which was brought down on April 19, has already come under fire by various interest groups. For example, the labour and business sectors are referring to it as a lost opportunity. Not surprisingly, the Liberal Opposition is expressing its displeasure, as well.
However, not everyone views the budget with such a jaundiced eye. To its credit, the provincial government has come through with substantial financial support for individuals living with mental health and addictions issues. An investment of approximately $8.7 million has been earmarked to increase awareness and ensure services are strengthened throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Mental illness and addictions affect people of all ages, cultures, educational backgrounds and income levels, and have a significant impact on individuals, families and our communities,” said Health and Community Services Minister Jerome Kennedy. “ This is a very serious and complex issue, and our investments through Budget 2011 are intended to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health and addictions issues and encourage people to seek help.”
The minister’s candidness about a condition that is sometimes dubbed a “ broken mind” could not come at a better time. Mental health and addictions issues, along with treatment needed and barriers to care, are both pervasive and growing at an alarming rate.
“ We know that one in five people suffers from some form of mental illness,” Kennedy continued, “and it is estimated that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability in the world, after heart disease.”
The resources, financial and otherwise, channeled into illnesses such as heart disease are multiple and welcomed. It is generally accepted that a direct connection exists between the heart and brain, with the two working in sync under the right conditions. Therefore, no less attention should be paid to the brain than to the heart. The two function in tandem.
Mental illness sufferers are crying out for greater understanding and support. Government is responding by seeking to invest in mental health infrastructure, to begin the replacement of the Waterford Hospital with a new, specialized mental health facility in St. John’s.
The implementation of three new initiatives is being proposed, the aim being to “demystify mental health, create awareness, and promote understanding by the public.” First, development of an interactive, web-based e-mental health service. Second, enhancement of tele-mental health services. Third, creation of a provincial public awareness campaign.
These initiatives have the potential of lending help on several key levels. Those who desperately need counseling services and/or medical attention can often become discouraged if help is unavailable or difficult to find. Greater awareness and funding for mental health resources and advocacy are needed to address the issue of mental illness and addictions.
George Skinner, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association — Newfoundland and Labrador, told The Telegram the budget is “probably the best budget for mental health.”
The provincial government is to be applauded for its foresight in generously responding to this need. Thankfully, it is finally receiving some serious and long-overdue attention. Is there more yet to be done? Without a doubt.
Still, the provisions provided in the budget are definitely a first step in the right direction. There will be both immediate and long-term benefits to the province. Actually, society at large will be stronger as a result of government’s continued strategic investments. One can only hope the renewed focus will continue unabated for a long time to come.
Burton K. Janes Special to The Compass