Gina Freeman/the Gauntlet

Editorial: Mental health funding benefits us all

Publication YearIssue Date 

The Calgary Health Region has announced it will cut back plans for a separate mental health ward in the initial phase of construction for the south Calgary hospital and "optimum, state-of-the-art" plans have been slashed.

The first phase of the facility was originally scheduled to open in 2011 with 260 beds and a specialized area for mental health. Citing the rising cost of construction in the city--the price tag is now $1.4 billion, from $1.25 billion--the health board has cut back the number of beds to 228, with no beds or area set aside for mental health services for the first phase of construction.

Yet mental illness will affect one in five Calgarians directly throughout their lifetime, regardless of income, education or age. The disease will touch even more as their loved ones are afflicted. Studies have shown mental illness can be as debilitating as a physical disease, one study even comparing schizophrenia to being a quadriplegic.

And it doesn't stop there. Mental illness isn't just a private issue. For those concerned about the effect of homelessness on the city, mental illness plays a key role. The percentage of mental illness within the homeless population is commonly cited as somewhere between 60 to 70 per cent, including both severe and mild illnesses as well as addiction.

The decision was criticized by the Liberal health care critic, the mental health physician lead at the soon-to-be-built hospital and the chief resident of the psychiatry program for the CHR, among others.

Calgary remains one of the only major Canadian cities without a psychiatric hospital. While it is understandable the province has to balance funding between many sectors, support for mental health care facilities is needed and, as the city grows, the problem will only get worse--as it is patients are sleeping in hallways at the city's hospitals.

Mental illness is crippling for both individuals and our city and should be prioritized as such. The province must ensure that the health region has the funding it needs to build the first phase of the hospital as it was planned, with not only beds set aside, but lock-up rooms and a separate wing for mental illness.

With files from Amanda Hu, Entertainment Editor