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Fighting Mental Illness

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: This editorial is reprinted from the Toronto Star, September 5, 2003.

For too long, Canadians with mental illness have quietly suffered--shamed into silence by the stigma associated with their condition.

A new Statistics Canada survey shows almost half of those afflicted have never sought care, even though medications have evolved to a point where many could now be helped, and even cured.

Instead, lives are lost to suicide. And thousands more lives are mangled by what some call the "the black dogs" of depression, and by other problems.

The latest findings are sobering: More than 2.6 million Canadians suffer from a mental illness, including drug or alcohol dependence. Mood disorders, including depression, are the most common affliction, burdening 1.2 million people.

Teenagers and young adults are hit hardest, but only one of every four facing a mental problem turned to a doctor, religious leader or support group for help.

"That's a crisis in anybody's terms," says Phil Upshall, head of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health. "You might even want to call it a scandal."

For the sake of millions of sufferers, there must be an end to society's stigma, and to the self-imposed neglect of those tormented by mental illness.

It would certainly help to have more money allocated to this area, especially for research programs, more public awareness, and improved access to treatment.

But health care budgets are sorely stretched, and money tends to flow toward those patient groups that are the most skilled at lobbying and presenting their case to the public.

No wonder the mentally ill have been shortchanged.

Reform can start even before additional health care dollars are pried from closed-fisted politicians and bureaucrats.

All Canadians can help--and it needn't cost a penny.

Instead, it will take understanding, acceptance, and a willingness to look past the stigma surrounding mental illness to see the people trapped within it.

Quite simply, our attitudes need to change--the lives of our loved ones, our friends, our neighbours and our co-workers depend on it.

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