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A NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH STRATEGY


August 27, 2012
By Danette Dooley

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is rolling out its first ever national mental health strategy, which is aimed at improving the mental health and well-being of all Canadians.

Canada was the only G8 country without such a strategy, says commission CEO Louise Bradley.

“We now have a blueprint, a very good one, and I think it’s now something that people with mental illness and their caregivers and the health care system and families can point to and say ‘this is what a good mental health system should look like and what it should provide.”

Bradley was in Australia in August speaking about the strategy during a conference in Cairns organized by Australia’s Mental Health Services.

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Bradley also met with mental health experts, government officials and media in several cities in Australia and New Zealand to talk about the strategy and share experiences about different approaches to mental health issues.

Bradley says the publication of the document, titled draws on the experience, knowledge and advice of thousands of people across the country, including police forces.

The strategy has been in the planning stages for years, she says.

“We wanted this to be about, for and by Canadians so we consulted with literally thousands of people across this country, some of whom are police officers, some of whom suffer from mental illness themselves, their families, caregivers and the media.”

Bradley says the strategy will help the commission move forward and improve a system that “desperately, desperately needs changing.”

A native of Newfoundland, Bradley has spent a significant part of her career working in corrections, health care and forensic mental health.

She’s familiar with the challenges faced by people who work in the justice system in dealing with people with mental illnesses.

The strategy acknowledges the important role police officers play within the mental health system, she says, as oftentimes police are the first point of contact for people who are mentally ill.

How people are treated by the justice system can have a huge impact on their lives, Bradley says.

“As first responders, police have a huge challenge. Finding ways to provide (police) with the right supports and the right education and understanding is going to be absolutely critical in the ways that we currently deal with people with mental health problems in every province and territory,” Bradley says.

While the majority who come in contact with the law find police officers helpful and compassionate, Bradley says, some say that was not the case.

“I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of providing them (police officers) with the tools and skills that they need to deal with a large component of their work. I think that we really need to concentrate on trying to do a better job of that.”

Bradley feels police forces are moving in the right direction in ensuring officers are adequately trained for their contact with people with mental illnesses.

She’s attended Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police conferences where mental health issues have been on the agenda, she says. In addressing gaps in treatment programs, the report recommends that more supports should be provided to people with mental illnesses who come in contact with the law. She indicated that the CACP can be a great conduit in supporting such programs.

“I’ve worked in various correctional systems across the country and know only too well that the problems that we face in general are multiplied many times over for people who end up in the justice system.”

The commission launched the new strategy in May. While the response has been “incredibly positive” Bradley says it’s up to the provinces and territories to draw on the information contained in the report.

The strategy is broad enough so that it can be tailored to the needs of each province and territory, she says.

“We are now in the process of doing a launch in each and every province and territory… we’re trying to figure out what we can do to work together on this. Many provinces are facing the same issues but, of course, the issues that you are going to find in Nunavut are going to be different from what you’ll find in Toronto.”

While provinces are responsible for health care, Bradley says, partnerships among provinces and territories will be the key to success. The commission is there to help in making connections, she says.

“It will be a colossal waste of time if jurisdictions try to go this on their own. There are too many commonalities. There is too much to be learned from each other. There are programs in every single province and territory that other provinces should be learning from and with each other and tackling these problems overall.”

dooley@blueline.ca

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Strategy Recommendations:

  1. Promote mental health across the lifespan in homes, schools and workplaces and prevent mental illness and suicide wherever possible;

  2. Foster recovery and well-being for people of all ages living with mental health problems and illnesses and uphold their rights;

  3. Provide access to the right combination of services, treatments and supports, when and where people need them;

  4. Reduce disparities in risk factors and access to mental health services and strengthen the response to the needs of diverse communities and Northerners;

  5. Work with First Nations, Inuit and Metis to address their mental health needs, acknowledging their distinct circumstances, rights and cultures; and

  6. Mobilize leadership, improve knowledge and foster collaboration at all levels.

CUTLINES

Louise Bradley, Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, addresses a meeting announcing the new national mental health strategy.


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