In Canada, the first week in May is designated as Mental Illness Awareness Week, and one day of that is devoted to schizophrenia awareness.
From the standpoint of a qualified mental health professional and a concerned citizen, I daresay that we need more than a week in any given year to be aware of mental health and its impact on our society; that time is far too short. We need time to not only be aware of the illness, but also to collectively ponder on our treatment of those among us who have mental illness, and press for political action to right that wrong.
In consonance with the Canadian Mental Health Association, the purpose of the week is to inspire people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health.
The week came and went like any other, with few people knowing or even caring about its significance, although we are encouraged by the Prime Minister Hon. Justin Trudeau to #get loud for mental health. Incidentally, our American neighbors have been celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949.
Tackling the bull by the horns, it is glaringly evident, even to the mildly myopic, that our culture does not view mental illness in the same manner as other major medical conditions, such as cancer. Now is the time for us to be honest with ourselves, and start talking about what we really feel about mental health and mental health treatment so that the government and health care system is forced to take notice and spring into action.
We can no longer afford to enrobe mental illness in a blanket-like shroud and pretend it does not exist, despite the glaring statistics.
The single disabling disorder among our youth is mental illness, while suicide is the second leading cause of death of our young people. According to Statistics Canada, 1 out of 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime, 1.3 million young Canadians have a mental disorder or addiction and First Nations youths are at higher risk of suicide (Statistics Canada, 2014).
Mental health care facilities lack the brilliance and luster of mega-hospitals and cancer-care facilities, with state-of-the-art technology centers springing up everywhere taking center stage. Also missing from this gloomy portrayal is the investment in research, treatment and care resources.
The Canadian government does not make promises to cure mental illness like they do with cancer. Another glaring fact is that despite its predominance only seven per cent of our publicly funded health care spending is allocated to mental health care. While Canada may not boast of a perfect cancer care system, facts nevertheless support its’ being one of the most trustworthy parts of our health care system. Better must be done.
Where were the actors, athletes and celebrities during Mental Health Awareness Week?  Was the media utilized to its fullest so that Canadians at large were afforded the opportunity to become aware of this ever present situation in our midst? Or was aware replaced by fear?  We need (those) celebrities that run the gamut from athlete to broadcaster, such as Olympic medalist Clara Hughes, Margaret Trudeau, Elizabeth Manley and others to continue standing up to raise awareness of mental health and help eliminate the stigma. However, awareness is not only about the government and increased spending.
Communities are responsible for survival of themselves and as such are called upon to do better by recognizing mental illness in the same way they recognize cancer, being more responsive and educated and begin or continue talking about it more openly.
In addition to the health care system managing cancer differently from mental illness, the community also organizes walks, runs, bowlathons, telethons and a foundation for every cancer.
Setting the record straight. We must face it before we can ace it—the reality of mental illness is not going away. Desperately needed and in the now are programs to be put in place for the next generation of people affected.
Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi is quoted as saying that “the greatness of a country is judged by the way it treats its weakest members.” The mentally ill certainly falls into that category.
Y. Sam