People who feel contempt for others often veil it with an attitude of excessive solicitude. The misogynist goes to great pains to show courtesy to women, the anti-Semite speaks fondly of his many Jewish friends. I suspect the same mechanism at work in the $130 million that the Conservative government has just dedicated to its Mental Health Commission.
In its favor, the Commission has already, since its inception in April 2007, brought issues of mental health out of the shadows and into the headlines. Impelled by the Commission, this spring the Globe and Mail ran a week long series on mental health which dramatically culminated in a letter to the editor from a depressed man who, after reading the series, decided to walk over to a hospital and seek treatment instead of committing suicide.
Sadly, if the Globe's online forum on mental health issues is to be believed, his prognosis remains bleak: dozens of readers sent hair-raising personal stories about begging for mental health services and being denied them, with results ranging from suicide attempts to murder. In its concluding editorial, the Globe argued that the Mental Health Commission will have little effect on the neglected realities of mental illness unless it puts some funds into actual treatment.
The Commission – and the government that formed it - has no such intention. Neither does it intend to do any sort of large-scale consultation on mental health issues, giving long-neglected people the opportunity to voice their experience and offer their solutions in a public forum. Perhaps, I begin to suspect, the Commission intends simply to let us all know that this government is very, very concerned about mental illness.
The press release announcing the Commission's $130 million in funding over 10 years was issued in late August, just shortly before the election call. It promised, over those ten years, an anti-stigma campaign, the creation of a 'pan-Canadian Knowledge Exchange Centre and a National Mental Health Strategy for Canada.
Certainly, there could be some value in a good anti-stigma campaign, given the long-standing stigma associated with mental health issues. But just imagine chirpy advertisements to the effect that 'it's ok to have an addiction!' running alongside the government's present anti-drug campaign and its anti-safe-injection-site rhetoric. And an anti-stigma campaign in the absence of any effort to shore up our sorely lacking mental health services reminds me of a depressed friend's satirical title for self-help books: 'Feeling Good About Feeling Bad.'
My friend killed himself a few years ago, and his melancholy wit was remembered by his shocked friends and family at a funeral service that was one of the most gut-wrenching experiences of my life. Everyone at that funeral said to everyone else, 'I didn't realize it was that bad.' But it is that bad, across the board. The crazy-making nature of our lives (how else can we explain the growing rates of mental illness?) and the mistreatment or lack of treatment faced by so many suffering with mental illness, call out for something a whole lot more profound, immediate and effective than an anti-stigma campaign, a 'National Mental Health Strategy' in ten years – and a 'pan-Canadian Knowledge Exchange Centre,' whatever that is.