Canada's First-Ever Mental Health Strategy Will Pressure Harper to Act: Canada Gets First-Ever Mental Health Strategy

Article excerpt

OTTAWA - Canada is about to get its first-ever national mental health strategy -- a massive report that may persuade Prime Minister Stephen Harper that his government must return Ottawa to a lead role on health care.

On Tuesday, after five years of research, consultations with thousands of people, modelling, forecasting and much agonizing, the Mental Health Commission of Canada will finally deliver the blueprint the Harper government requested.

The Canadian Press has learned that the strategy will launch a call to action targeted not just at the federal government, but also at provincial governments, health-care professionals, businesses, philanthropists and volunteers.

With more than 100 recommendations, the strategy will demand that they, and Canadians in general, set aside their preconceived notions of mental illness and face the fact that almost every family will be touched by mental health problems at some point.

Specifically, the blueprint wants federal and provincial governments to earmark nine per cent of their health spending for mental health -- up from about seven per cent now. Governments should also draw two percentage points more from their social spending envelope for mental health needs.

It will call for a reconfiguration of health care services so that patients have better access to mental health professionals, community support, better funding, and appropriate medication.

It will emphasize recovery from mental illness, and urge for more prevention, especially when dealing with young people.

It will also stress the high cost of inaction. Mental health problems cost the Canadian economy at least $50 billion a year.

The report stops short of putting a dollar figure on what the federal and provincial governments should spend overall, since the fiscal squeeze at both levels of government has made any specific requests too sensitive, Ottawa insiders say.

Still, the recommendations have caught the eye of the Conservative government, numerous insiders say. And there is an acceptance at the federal level that Ottawa should be central in pushing the strategy forward -- despite Harper's recent insistence that health is better left to the provinces.

Whether the federal government will follow through with substantial financial support and national leadership, however, is another question.

"We have to have buy-in. There's nothing that easy in health care," said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, echoing a sentiment expressed by several stakeholder groups. "We need to see federal leadership on this."

Gillian Mulvale is betting that the strategy will actually make a difference.

Mulvale is an Ottawa-based health policy analyst who plunged into post-partum depression two decades ago, and struggled for years to find the proper care, support and medication.

At first, she couldn't even bring herself to call her doctor and admit something was wrong. Even after she did ask for help, she didn't get it.

Then she miscarried, and found herself spiralling.

"I finally hit a point where I thought that everyone would be better off without me, if I were to leave," she said in an interview at her office, where the walls are decorated with diplomas and motivational proverbs. …