Mental health services need improvement

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There is no greater tragedy for a parent than the death of a child and that pain is compounded when the feeling is that loss could have been prevented.

Last week, Zachary Allen’s family shared their grief-stricken story about his suicide. Adding to the heart-wrenching tale of their loss is the fact they believe his death could have been prevented had he received the treatment they told the Cochrane Eagle they were fighting for.

While hospital privacy regulations make it impossible for us to determine the complete details of Allen’s interactions with the medical community and how they might have led to his death, his family says the system failed Allen.

Allen’s death is a grim reminder of the state of mental health care across the country.

For years, advocates have decried the lack of health care funding funneled to mental health. In 2012, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) drafted Canada’s first mental health strategy, Changing Directions, Changing Lives, in an effort to bring attention to the shortfalls in mental health supports. At the time, spending dedicated to mental health services was a mere seven per cent of the health care budget.

Since the strategy was drafted, there has been very little progress. The strategy called for Canada to increase proportional funding to support mental health to 10 per cent of the health budget by 2022. It also asked the federal government to implement legislation that would help remove financial and social barriers to accessing mental health.

Nearly six years after the strategy was drafted, Canada has yet to develop comprehensive mental health legislation, and proportional funding to mental health remains at six per cent of the budget, though health spending has increased by $6.6 billion.

This is an abysmal response from our leaders to a serious and unnecessarily deadly problem. According to MHCC, “Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in Canada. Among those aged 15 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death after car accidents.”

Between 2010 and 2014 – the latest Statistics Canada information available – the data shows an average of 500 suicides committed by youth aged 10 to 24 each year – accounting for 12 per cent of the approximately 20,000 Canadian suicides in that time period.

The MHCC goes on to make the obvious link between suicide and mental health and estimates that 90 per cent of people who die by suicide were experiencing a mental health problem or illness.

Those numbers show mental health issues to be a deadly epidemic and it is time the country begins to have a more open conversation about the issues to effect real change.

Canada’s record as having the third highest youth suicide rate among industrialized nations – as stated by the MHCC – is a disgraceful record and a black mark on our nation’s leadership.

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