The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is a proud supporter of Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), a national public education campaign coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.
By now, the oft-repeated statistic that one in five people will experience a mental health problem or illness each year is a familiar clarion call. But it rings hollow if we fail to address the needs of people living with the most serious mental illnesses. While mental health in a broad sense has emerged from the shadows (at last), the stories and experiences of those with the most profound needs remain shrouded, almost to the point of invisibility.
The MHCC’s recent policy research on the topic shows that people with serious mental illness were not only at higher risk of poorer health outcomes before the pandemic, it underscores how their needs have continued to take a back seat to other priorities as it spread.
For many people living with serious mental illness, maintaining wellness requires stability and continuity of care. This may include access to face-to-face services, like day programs, psychotherapy, visits with a family doctor or psychiatrist, and ongoing, reliable peer support. Without warning, COVID pulled the rug out from under an already vulnerable group, throwing these effectively calibrated care plans off-kilter.
The pivot to virtual care came with and was accelerated by the pandemic. Yet, while the services suit the needs of many, they were never intended to be a one-size-fits-all arrangement. Virtual care can be a stumbling block for those without access to broadband or a lack comfort with technology, which means that it’s unevenly used among people with serious mental illness. Thankfully, this isn’t a challenge without solutions.
We must fund researchers to engage with people living with serious mental illness to investigate how they were affected by the pandemic — specifically, how access to high-intensity services was disrupted in a context of constant under-resourcing. Peer support groups could be an invaluable source of information to collect and share stories, like those published by Our Voice in New Brunswick.
We also need to put better plans in place for future disruptive events like the pandemic, with guidelines for funding uninterrupted access to person-centred care.
Most importantly, when we begin to build a better system of care, we need people with lived experience working alongside us to address gaps in virtual care through a continuum of community-based mental health services.
We simply can’t build such a system without being guided by the voices of people living with serious mental illness. This MIAW week, let’s remind ourselves to listen.
President and CEO, Mental Health Commission of Canada
Mental Health Commission of Canada613-683-3748
613-683-3748 / email@example.com