Sunday, April 22, 2018

Supporting Mental Health Care Strengthens Civility

I was shocked, saddened, and angered when I read last week’s Telegraph Journal article about four school counsellors quitting their jobs because of overwork and disrespect. Because I believe the buck stops at the top, I cannot help but place responsibility for this debacle squarely in lap of the department of education. This department has been plagued by underfunding and, as a result, a stifled ability to deliver a good education for a good long time. This latest revelation could indicate a tipping point is fast approaching. Excellent mental health and the care required to maintain it should be considered a valuable asset to our society. Because of the stigmas, fears, misunderstandings, and lack of it being a high enough priority, mental health issues continue to take a back seat. The time has come for us to speak more openly about these issues, which plague a full 25% of the population. There is much to gain both ethically and economically if we all took the time to learn about this epidemic problem to which none of us are oblivious or unaffected, despite our thundering inaction. What can we do as community partners; and what must we expect the department of education to do? Where does the responsibility rest when it comes to what amounts to a cultural revolution? And if we can fully understand the impact of such resignations, how will this allow us to develop into a more civil society? Because these are not political issues, they should not be treated as political footballs. Any responsible government should recognize the importance and benefits of a greatly increased accessibility to mental health practitioners. In schools and most workplaces, good, highly accessible counselling should be available. In high stress jobs, such as the armed forces, health care and education (to name the top three), such services should be mandatory. To accomplish this, we would need many more therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. We need to put together a funding model that shows the long-term health and economic benefits of treating mental health issues in the early stages, rather than waiting until they become a crisis. We would also need to collectively decide that improving the mental health of our communities is a good idea. This buy-in would likely lead to the substantially increased funding required to make this happen. I would hope that by teaching the realities of mental health in our schools, in our churches, in our social groups, and beyond that these truths could begin to melt away the stigma and shame still clinging to these far-reaching issues. Access to mental health care must be viewed as a benefit both to the organization providing it and to the person receiving it. I know of no one who would not benefit from feeling safer, more accepted and valued for who they are. Becoming more in tune with our close communities, the ones we really live in, will give us more awareness of who may need some extra encouragement, assistance, understanding, or connection. We can provide an open ear and a wonderful opportunity to connect, especially when close friends and family ask us. Because people tend to ask for this kind of support subtly, greater awareness makes it much easier to notice more quickly when things aren’t quite right. The incremental strides we are making through different government programs are important and should not be discounted. However, they are woefully inadequate, as the results have shown. Poverty, a sound education, and accessible health care – mental or otherwise, are all areas that undermine progress. We undoubtedly need to put more energy into those areas by making them our top priorities. As members of our communities, it is up to us to speak up and let our elected officials know what our priorities are. Although they may not be able to fund everything, they should be strongly encouraged to provide venues where these important matters can be discussed and where good clear information can be presented by qualified experts. We must get our heads around the idea that healthier communities are a good thing, and that it is up to us as individuals to carry the torch. There are a lot of great people in our province who are not elected officials, and who would be able to help in significant ways. So many matters that have become political in nature do not belong in any political arena because they affect everyone regardless of party affiliation. And, everyone, regardless of political beliefs, needs to pitch in and work towards a common goal for the good of the communities in which we live. A more compassionate society provides greater opportunity for personal fulfillment. Being kinder and more respectful of one another, more accepting, and more inclusive are all examples of humility. A humbler society gives all of us an equal opportunity to follow our path, as we choose, enjoying the benefits and paying the consequences of our actions along the way. What is your opinion? Jay Remer is Canada’s Etiquette Guy. Feel free to contact him on social media. He lives in Saint Andrews.