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

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