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Mental illness reaching 'epidemic' level

Needs to be higher on governments' priority list: experts

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/12/2011 (2611 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

More Manitobans are aware of mental illnesses and Manitoba's psychologists say it's time governments were, too.

New data obtained from a freedom-of-information request shows 173,496 Manitobans were diagnosed with a mental illness in 2010, up from 111,544 in 1995 -- a 56 per cent increase.

Experts say this increase isn't so much the result of more mental illnesses as it is the result of more people being treated for illnesses that have always existed.

"I don't think things have really changed in terms of percentages," said Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, president-elect of the Psychological Association of Manitoba. "What these numbers reflect is awareness of the problem."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/12/2011 (2611 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman says governments need to direct more funding towards mental health.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman says governments need to direct more funding towards mental health.

More Manitobans are aware of mental illnesses and Manitoba's psychologists say it's time governments were, too.

New data obtained from a freedom-of-information request shows 173,496 Manitobans were diagnosed with a mental illness in 2010, up from 111,544 in 1995 — a 56 per cent increase.

Experts say this increase isn't so much the result of more mental illnesses as it is the result of more people being treated for illnesses that have always existed.

"I don't think things have really changed in terms of percentages," said Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, president-elect of the Psychological Association of Manitoba. "What these numbers reflect is awareness of the problem."

Greater public awareness leads to more people seeking treatment. Doctors are also now better able to make a proper diagnosis, he said.

"We need to address mental health as a problem," Abdulrehman said. He said it's time to treat mental health just as seriously as physical health. "If this were a physical health problem, it would be considered an epidemic," he said.

Manitoba has fewer psychologists than the national average and it can take about a year to see a publicly-funded clinical psychologist. There are 17 psychologists per 100,000 Manitobans compared to 47 per 100,000 Canadians, according to statistics from the Manitoba Psychological Society.

One volunteer at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, who has bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, knows first-hand how difficult it is to receive treatment.

"It's really hard to get a psychiatrist right now," and "really hard to keep one," said Sara, who didn't want her real name published.

She recently had to wait almost a year to see a counsellor. Her son suffers from depression and anxiety disorder and they've been waiting for five years to try and get proper treatment.

"It's been a long road to getting help," she said.

Mental illness needs to be higher on the priority list when health budgets are set, said Nicole Chammartin, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Winnipeg branch.

"It's an issue we can't leave on the back burner anymore," Chammartin said. "We're seeing it in our hospitals, we're seeing it in the streets, we're seeing it everywhere," she said. "It's time to make it a priority."

A new health funding plan announced by the federal government just before Christmas will result in smaller increases in transfer payments to Manitoba when it comes into effect in 2018.

Abdulrehman called the announcement "kind of ridiculous" and said "mental health tends to get the shaft" when it comes to funding.

Chammartin concurred, saying mental health is usually the first on the cutting board when health-care funding is tightened.

As it is, only about five per cent of health-care funding goes to mental health, but 20 per cent of Manitobans are affected by mental health disorders.

Tina Holland, the director of education at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, said public funding hasn't increased to match the increase in mental-health patients.

"The funding for groups like ours has stayed the same for the last 10 to 12 years," she said.

The association receives about 40 to 50 per cent of its funding from the province.

The long waiting list for treatment makes life difficult for those suffering from mental illness and their families, Sara said. Like all illnesses, delays in treatment make mental illness a more difficult foe.

"The quicker you get help with your mental health issues, the quicker you're going to be able to have a relatively good life," said Sara.

nick.ashdown@freepress.mb.ca

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