The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, The CIBC Run for the Cure, The Weekend to End Breast Cancer; these are just a few of the very successful annual fundraisers for incredibly worthy organizations we’ve come to expect and appreciate. The odds are you know someone who’s participated in one of them and you’ve likely been a sponsor. And supporting these, among other, deserving causes means you’ve contributed to important research, programs, treatment and care and made a difference in the lives of many.
One in two Canadians will develop cancer over the course of their lifetime. One in four will ultimately die of the disease. These statistics are frightening and horrific, but also mobilizing. Everyone knows someone who has been directly or indirectly affected by cancer and most of us don’t hesitate to contribute to cancer fundraisers ultimately designed to find a cure for this insidious disease.
But there’s another disease that has an enormous impact on the health and well-being of Canadians that gets far less attention. It’s responsible for 500,000 weekly absences from work and costs the Canadian economy $50 billion a year. It also has a significant and increasing mortality rate and is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24.
I’m talking, of course, about mental illness, which directly affects 1 in 5 Canadians, but also touches the families, friends and employers of those who struggle – just like any other life-threatening disease. The glaring disparity between other high-profile diseases and mental illness, though, is that fact there is still so much shame attached to talking about it. And because of this shame, as well as the fear of judgement and discrimination, 75% of those who struggle don’t get the help they need.
The stigma associated with mental illness also has an impact on funding for research and services. Despite the fact that it carries the largest burden of illness (surpassing cancer), the Canadian Institute of Health Research invested only $44.7 million in mental health research between 2008 and 2015, compared with $133.8 million dedicated to cancer-related research.
There are encouraging signs that change is in the air. In 2015, The Quebec government announced a contribution of $70 million over 5 years to improve mental health care. In December 2016, plans were unveiled for an investment of $35 million to launch the province’s first public psychotherapy program and last April, Health Minister Gaetan Barrette dedicated an additional $26.5 million to help those with severe mental illness.
But despite this new plan, mental health remains drastically underfunded and private donations are essential to breaking the stigma and providing crucial services for the ⅕ who are often debilitated by mental illness.
Sadly, if you do some research, aside from the wonderful Bell Let’s Talk, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any significant mental health fundraisers, despite its prevalence and impact. And that’s why I’m so proud to be involved with the Jewish General Hospital’s groundbreaking MINDSTRONG initiative. Given that exercise has long been proven to be an effective tool in improving mental health, MINDSTRONG is a day-long fitness event where participants have the opportunity to enjoy yoga, Zumba, boot camp, spinning, high intensity interval training and tennis. There are also gifts and prizes, a silent auction, lunch and snacks.
But most importantly, it’s a day of community spirit, energy and passion for making a difference in the world of mental health.
To date, the MINDSTRONG initiative has raised over $3,000,000 dedicated to essential mental health programs and services at the Jewish General Hospital which directly benefit those who struggle with mental illness as well as their caregivers.
Money raised from MINDSTRONG has funded these crucial services:
- The hiring of a Youth Mental Health Coordinator which reduces the number of youth on the waiting list for psychiatric screening
- The hiring of a Family Peer Support Worker, in collaboration with AMI-Quebec, to support families of young people with mental illness.
- The development of a web-based application called Aminy which allows patients to instantly get in touch with their therapists.
- The installation of Wi-Fi and upgrade of the current computer systems in the Institute of Community and Family Psychiatry (ICFP). The ICFP was the only building at the JGH without Wi-Fi; doctors and staff now have better tools to do their work.
- The conversion of paper medical records to an electronic system for the Child Psychiatry Department which helps essential communication between departments.
- The renovation of the professional offices and the creation of a Mental Health Education Centre, giving medical staff the opportunity to continue learning.
- The building of a Day Hospital which enables patients in crisis to receive immediate and specific care instead of waiting at the Emergency Department.
- The rebuilding of the Inpatient Unit infrastructures. This one is personal, because I spent a week as an inpatient last spring. The conditions are dark, dismal and absolutely not conducive to healing. The new unit will be a safer, more functional and soothing space that promotes active recovery.
But despite these incredible efforts, more funding is necessary and we need your help.
My hope is that one day, mental health receives the same funding and support as any debilitating physical illness. Until then, if you or someone you love has been affected by mental illness, consider supporting MINDSTRONG and the incredible contribution it’s making to a sadly underserved community.