Originally Published: October 12, 2010
By Keith Martin,
Member of Parliament, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, B.C., Liberal Party of Canada; MD.
Every day sees mental illnesses on the rise in Canada. Why aren’t we doing more to tackle this problem?Despite the high incidence of mental illness in Canada, this collection of medical problems still remains underappreciated and underfunded relative to other diseases. Of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide, five are mental disorders: major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
At any given time, 20 per cent of Canadians have a mental illness, and that number is fast approaching 25 per cent. About 4,000 Canadians commit suicide each year, and suicide is the most common cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. In aboriginal communities, the incidence of suicide is four to five times higher than the Canadian average.
The highest rate of depression is in those under the age of 20, and the highest rate of anxiety in those aged 20 to 29. According to the World Health Organization, by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of premature death worldwide, and it may already be the leading cause of economic loss due to any illness, mental or physical.
Over time, the incidence of dementias will grow into a brick wall our society will slam into. Currently, one in 11 people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. This year alone, more than 103,000 Canadians will develop dementia. If nothing changes, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia is expected to more than double, reaching 1.1 million Canadians within 25 years. We are utterly unprepared for this.
Substance abuse is also a major problem in our society; 13 per cent of people are at-risk drinkers, and depression frequently accompanies substance abuse. Among youth prostitutes, 44 per cent got into prostitution to get money to pay for drugs. In Canada, one baby every day is born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the leading cause of preventable, irreversible brain damage at birth.
In a release last week, the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health said that the economic costs of mental illness are equivalent to 14 per cent of corporate Canada’s net operating profits. The cost of mental illness to our society is $14.4 billion a year; add substance abuse to the tab, and we’re looking at about $18 billion. However, less than four per cent of medical research funding goes to mental illness research.
Mental illnesses in Canada are orphan problems in our medical system. We are ill-equipped to deal with these challenges, in particular the increase in the dementias. We desperately need to implement a national health strategy that will enable us to prevent a great deal of hardship in the future and increase the much-needed care for Canadians attempting to tame these demons in their private world.