Suicide is among the most serious public health issues in Canada, yet our mental health care system is archaic and inefficient. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, suicide is among the leading causes of death for Canadians aged 15–24, second only to vehicle accidents. Four thousand Canadians die prematurely each year due to suicide.
Amanda Todd has become the face of bullying and suicide. She took her own life last week after sharing her heart-wrenching story about being cyber-bullied and stalked. During an eight minute YouTube video posted about a month before her death, Amanda showed a series of hand-written notes describing her experience, which ended with “I have nobody. I need someone.” When Amanda was 12, she flashed a man online. Later, the man contacted her and told her if she didn’t give him a show, he would send a picture of her breasts to her family and friends. This was the start of the extensive bullying that Amanda experienced.
As New Democrat MP Dany Morin said, Canada is at its “breaking point” of cyber-bullying and something must be done. Bullying has and always will be an issue, but the emergence of social media has intensified it. However, even with the proliferation of cyber-bullying, Canada does not have a national bullying prevention strategy — an unacceptable negligence.
Morin said a broad view of the situation in Canada must first be established in order to create an anti-bullying strategy. This is a good first step, however, the road to bullying prevention is a long one.
In her video, Amanda describes her experience with anxiety, major depression and anxiety disorders. Her story sheds light on another pressing issue that needs to be addressed immediately: the lack of mental health care programs and coverage. This is the root of many problems in Canada. The Canadian government should focus on the long overdue problem of fixing the inadequate mental health care system.
Although the Canadian health care system claims universal access, it does not span into the realm of mental health, further stigmatizing those with mental illnesses.
Canada is perplexingly far behind in developing a uniform mental health strategy. Canadian mental health care is inaccessible and expensive, preventing those who need help from seeking it. Canada is the only G7 country without an established mental health care system — an embarrassing fact that needs to change.
When the government starts legitimizing mental illness, Canadians will follow suit and people like Amanda will be able to get the proper help they need. Drastic changes must happen before more tragic stories like Amanda’s arise.
Flaws in the Canadian mental health care system are especially apparent in the lack of coverage for one of the groups most vulnerable to mental illnesses: university students.
Ann Laverty, associate director of the University of Calgary counselling centre, said most post-secondary schools across Canada work with a brief counselling model — for the U of C, that means undergraduate students get 10 free sessions.
“We will see students for a huge range of issues, we see the spectrum,” said Laverty.
Laverty said the top-three reasons students at the U of C go for counselling are depression, anxiety/stress and relationship concerns. These three reasons have been pretty consistent, however, the level of severity and complexity has increased.
Three years ago, the U of C switched from offering three free sessions to offering 10. However, this is still not enough. Some schools, including McGill University, offer students free counselling for their entire undergrad degrees. Although the average number of sessions used by U of C students who attend counselling is 3–5, students should have every resource available to cope with mental illness.
Mental illnesses cost the economy roughly $51 billion a year due to lost productivity, according to the CMHA. However, only 7 per cent of health expenditures are put towards mental health — way below the amount most developed countries put forth.
Amanda’s story is like many others’ before her, however, it’s clear that not enough is being done by the Canadian government to prevent suicide tragedies from happening. How many more deaths by suicide need to happen before something is done about Canada’s limited mental health resources?