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Restricted access to support

Airdrie opinion_text

On the heels of a record-breaking Bell Let's Talk Day that saw 154,387,425 messages of support for mental health and generated more than $7.7 million for related Canadian projects, many may think mental-health awareness is no longer an issue. In reality, talking about mental illness still comes with a fear of rejection and harm from others, and there remains many barriers to accessing help.

I try to be open about my experiences with mental illness. I use the platform I have here to increase awareness in the hopes of removing the "otherness" those suffering often face, to discuss how best to talk to someone who opens up to you, to share lessons I've learned through hard-fought battles and therapy, and to encourage others to seek support. I don't usually get feedback from readers, but on the rare occasion I do, it is 95 per cent positive. Then, there is that five per cent who feel they need to debase me. In one instance, a reader felt it imperative he send me a note suggesting I make others uncomfortable and should avoid going out in public.

However, my biggest concern is accessibility to resources.

When I returned from maternity leave, it was a huge adjustment. I was still working to overcome postpartum depression, had anxiety about my ability to do my job and parent at the same time, and was afraid asking for help would be a burden to others. It was overwhelming, and I needed support.

Having some familiarity with "the system," I contacted Access Mental Health – a great service that provides information, consultation and referral to those with addiction/mental-health concerns, and one I recommend to anyone seeking help. They suggested places to seek counselling and put me on a waiting list for my current mental-health provider. The catch was, and it was a big catch, the wait list for that program was more than 10 months – not unusual according to Dr. Desi Brownstone, psychiatrist and president of the Ontario Psychiatric Association, who told Global News in 2017, the issue is a "long-neglected problem,” with the average wait time for psychiatrists lasting up to a year.

Just coming off of mat-leave, I had diminished savings and could not afford a private psychologist, even on a sliding-scale payment plan. So I waited, and I got worse. I eventually had to take a leave of absence, which further impacted my mental and financial well-being.

With estimates indicating one in five people will develop a mental illness in any given year, clearly, more work is required. According to a 2018 report card on mental health from iPolitics, "At just 7.2 per cent, mental-health spending in Canada is much lower than most developed nations. Compare this with...Australia, the U.K. and New Zealand, where that number ranges from 10 to 14 per cent."

That is simply not good enough, so let's keep the conversation going and demand more be done.