Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Mental health group has a lot of education work ahead to overcome stigma
A survey of Winnipeggers by the Canadian Mental Health Association found many believe the organization should work hard to reduce the public’s stigma and discrimination towards mental illness.
Nicole Chammartin, executive director of the CMHA’s Winnipeg region, said it’s that stigma which has raised its head in recent days with the negative reaction by the public and provincial government to a Criminal Code Review Board ruling last week that would see Vince Li get two brief supervised outdoor passes a day.
Chammartin said 555 people responded to the survey during the last few months and of them, about 25 per cent said the CMHA should work hard at reducing the stigma of mental illness.
The comments received on the issue included "sometimes it (stigma) is worse than the mental illness itself".
"I think that number says a lot," Chammartin said on Wednesday after the CMHA released the survey’s results.
"It is amazing the number who said it is a priority to reduce stigma — that says something to our government. How are they reducing stigma?
"If anything, in the latest case, the government is perpetuating the stigma."
Last week, the review board’s decision to grant Li, who was found not criminally responsible in the 2008 slaying of Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus, to get the two brief supervised outdoor passes a day outside the Selkirk Mental Health Centre was put on hold by Justice Minister Andrew Swan until new security measures were put in place.
But advocates for the mentally ill, as well as the Canadian Psychiatric Association, condemned the decision, calling it fear-mongering and political pandering.
"Most of us felt shocked," Chammartin said.
"I’m an eternal optimist and I want to believe the best in people. I hope people just don’t have enough information. I think there’s a lot of fear out there that isn’t based on a real reality — and fear and anxiety is a mental health issue itself."
But Chammartin said what it tells the CMHA is it still has a lot of work to do educating the public.
Meanwhile, the survey found the number one goal people want the CMHA to work on is advocating for more resources — including housing and financial support — for people with mental health issues.
As well, the CMHA was told to work on helping people access mental health resources and increase information and support to family members experiencing mental health issues.
The least wanted goal for the organization is having the CMHA create a foundation to support non-profit mental health services here.