Mental illness reaching severe levels in Manitoba

Non-profit organizations say community approach, funding necessary

A recent campaign by the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba aims to get people talking about mental illness. Supplied

Instances of mental illness in Manitoba have skyrocketed in recent years, according to experts, and provincial organizations are now calling for community-based approaches to addressing the problem.

According to media reports based on freedom of information requests, the number of Manitobans diagnosed with mental illnesses has increased 56 per cent in a 15-year period, up from 111,544 Manitobans in 1995 to 173,496 Manitobans in 2010.

“The bleeding happens on the inside, not on the outside, so awareness of the issue is a constant challenge,” said Tara Brousseau, the executive director of the non-profit Mood Disorders Association (MDA) of Manitoba, a community-based organization helping those with mood disorders out of eight branch locations throughout the province.

Part of the awareness issue, according to Brousseau, is that Manitobans have less access to psychological help, in the form of therapy, than Canadians living in other provinces.

According to statistics from the Manitoba Psychological Society, there are 17 psychologists per 100,000 Manitobans versus 47 per 100,000 Canadians.

The MDA has sought to address this through its mandate, which focuses almost on self help exercises, but even that form of therapy is under-funded.

“On our side, which is the self-help side, our funding has been frozen for the last four years by the provincial government,” said Brousseau, adding that, while five years ago the MDA came in contact with 21,000 people, in 2011 they came in contact with 36,000 people.

Meanwhile, the association’s provincial funding has been frozen at $351,000 for four years.

That number would have to be doubled or even tripled to match the growing demand for the services that the MDA offers by hiring beyond the 16 part-time staff that keep the organization afloat, she said.

Even a recent awareness campaign that appeared on billboards and transit buses throughout the city did not receive any direct provincial funding.

The campaign, titled “We’re Crazy Not to Talk About Mental Illness,” was funded through a $20,000 annual fundraising drive and provided to the MDA for the campaign.

Connie Krahenbil, executive director for the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), agrees that the issue of funding is paramount, particularly when it comes to community-based services provided through non-profit organizations.

“I’m a huge proponent of community-based services; they’re more economically sound and they help people better,” she said, adding that the province not only needs to fund psychological treatment but also needs to increase funding for non-profit and community-based organizations.

Currently, the province of Manitoba does not cover psychological services performed outside of a hospital or mental health institution through medicare.

Additionally, according to Krahenbil, they don’t adequately fund the kind of self help supports offered by organizations like the MDA or the Manitoba chapter of the CMHA.

On February 14, Krahenbil will be meeting with the NDP caucus to discuss these issues.

“With a lot of these non-profit agencies … they get some direct funding from Manitoba Health … but very little funding actually comes from Manitoba Health, it generally comes from regional health authorities that decide in their regions,” she said, adding that there needs to be more direct funding opportunities.

Krahenbil estimates that the Manitoba chapter of CMHA will run a $75,000 deficit this year and that 51 per cent of the chapter’s funding comes from fundraising.

The bleeding happens on the inside, not on the outside, so awareness of the issue is a constant challenge.

Tara Brousseau, executive director, Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba

“The lack of funding for these not-for-profit agencies has turned us into hungry dogs fighting over a piece of bone with a bit of meat on it. We’ve become competitive with one another and we fight with one another because we’ve become so desperate for our survival.”

In June 2011, the provincial government released a long-term strategic plan called Rising to the Challenge, designed to address issues of mental health in Manitoba.

The strategic plan outlines six primary goals and ways to achieve those after extensively consulting with researchers at Manitoba Health, those affected by mental illness and other mental health professionals.

Formulating policy responses to live up to the five-year strategic plan is still a work in progress.

Aboriginal communities

According to a 2007 report published by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, an organization dedicated to education and reconciliation efforts among indigenous peoples, aboriginal youth living on reserve are five to six times more likely to die by suicide than their non-aboriginal counterparts.

Manitoba has the second largest Aboriginal population, next to Saskatchewan, among Canadian provinces, with a total population of 150,040 and 13.6 per cent of the total population as of 2001.

For Allan Cochrane, treasurer for the Aboriginal Student Council at the University of Winnipeg and a member of the Peguis First Nation, this signifies that both the province and the federal government need to step up their efforts to address mental illness on First Nations communities.

“It can be a very depressing existence living on a First Nation, I know that for myself,” he said, having lived on the Peguis First Nation for the majority of his life.

“With past problems being put on the youth, and with youth not having a lot to do in isolated communities it’s very upsetting. On top of broken homes and family problems, this is going to compound into a feeling of having no way out.”

Cochrane added that more community-based services, including services for Aboriginal youth transitioning from reserve communities to city centres, are necessary.

Published in Volume 66, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 1, 2012)

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