Monday, August 18, 2008

Nearly half of Canadians say mental illness used as an excuse

Nearly half of Canadians say mental illness used as an excuse

Poll shows extent of discrimination, CMA says

Sharon Kirkey, Canwest news service

Published: Monday, August 18, 2008

Nearly one in two Canadians believes mental illness isn't always "real" but a cop-out for bad behaviour and personal weakness, a new national survey shows.

One in four is afraid to be around someone with a serious mental illness, and about half of the 2,024 Canadians surveyed online said they would avoid socializing with, or marrying someone with a mental illness.

The Ipsos Reid survey, commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association, will be released today at their annual meeting in Montreal.

It "shines a harsh, and frankly unflattering light on the attitudes we Canadians have concerning mental health," CMA president Dr. Brian Day said in a release.

"In some ways, mental illness is the final frontier of socially-acceptable discrimination."

The irony is that 15 per cent of adults polled reported having been diagnosed by a doctor as being clinically depressed; another 23 per cent reported feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. Meanwhile, the number of prescriptions dispensed for antidepressants in the country is approaching one prescription per Canadian per year.

The online survey, conducted in June, might explain why:

- Just half would tell friends or co-workers they have a family member suffering from a mental illness, as opposed to 72 per cent who would share a diagnosis of cancer

- One in four (27 per cent) said they would be fearful being around someone with a serious mental illness

- Nearly half (46 per cent) agreed that "we call some things mental illness because it gives some people an excuse for poor behaviour and personal failings."

- Two in five (42 per cent) aren't certain they would socialize with a friend with a mental illness

- 55 per cent said they would be unlikely to marry someone with a mental illness

- Most wouldn't hire a lawyer, someone to teach or take care of their child, a financial adviser, a doctor or a landscaper who has a mental illness.

"I wish I could say I was knocked off my feet. I wish I could say this came as a huge surprise and disappointment," says Dr. David Goldbloom, vice-chairman of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which is charged with developing a national mental health strategy.

"The reality is, in 21st century Canada, that it doesn't."

"If somebody said to you they had a pain in their stomach, you wouldn't assume it was fake; you would assume they had a problem and had to get it looked at," says Canada's mental health commissioner, Michael Kirby.

"People aren't willing to recognize that mental illness is a genuine illness."

Fewer than half of Canadians think alcohol and drug addiction is a mental illness and only one in five would socialize with someone struggling with substance abuse, according to the survey.

The attitudes reflect "an almost religious judgment of people involved with alcohol or drugs as sinners," says Dr. Goldbloom, senior medical adviser in education and public affairs at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

A psychiatric diagnosis can threaten a person's sense of identity, and that "is a huge source of fear," Dr. Goldbloom says.

"As visible as the person on the street corner who is sleeping on a grate and hallucinating is in the downtown core of any city, there is also an invisible army of people walking to work in the office towers around that grate, who themselves have also experienced some form of mental illness and substance abuse, who have recovered, who are back in the workforce, who are back with their families," Dr. Goldbloom says.

"But the message is very clear from this survey: They're not going to talk about it. They're not going to disclose. And they're not going to disclose as long as there is a culture of shame, secrecy and stigma."

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

I guess they don't realize mental illness can happen to anyone. Even them. Anyone can become mentally ill. Mental illness doesn't care if you are rich, poor or anything else for that matter.
Something to think about. One can even become mentally ill from talking a drug your doctor may prescribe for an illness. Side affects you know. One can even become mentally ill from the place they work.