Yesterday I saw one of Canada’s greatest Olympians Clara Hughes on Michael Landsberg ‘s program Off The Record. She was talking about her struggle with depression. Ms Hughes is a woman I have a great deal of respect for and who is a great role model for kids in this country.  Her willingness to talk openly about her battle with depression is a great gift to Canada.  I have more respect for her now than ever.  

Mental health is so important. And yet sadly, there is still so much stigma attached to mental illness, many suffer in silence.  With 20% of Canadians experiencing mental illness at some point in their lifetimes, it is a certainty that we will identify with this. If we have not struggled with mental illness we most likely have a family member or a friend who has.  We look at those who are depressed and see weakness. Michael Landsberg, who has also battled depression, addressed this on his program with Clara Hughes, remarking that a woman like Hughes who has been so successful, winning multiple medals in both winter and summer Olympics, is far from weak.  Why is it that we will look at someone who fights cancer and see them as strong people and look to those who have been fighting mental illness, in some cases for a long time, and regard them as weak? It is time for change.  It is a matter of life and death.

Since the New Year we have had at least three deaths in this city that are a direct result of mental illness and the failures in our health care system to provide adequate levels of care to who suffer. In January 51 year old Steven Michael Kokotec took his life after being released from hospital.  Shortly after that 63 year old Charles Kirkwood who suffered with mental illness was discovered dead in a field near the nursing home from where he had disappeared just a few hours earlier.  Last week 68 year old Stella Marie McDonald who had fought a lifelong battle with bipolar disease was found dead in a backyard across the street from her Rest home.  All of this to begin the year, knowing that the 2010 ended in the same fashion. On December 23, Margaret Draskovich , aged 42, walked away from the psychiatric ward of Hotel Dieu-Grace Hospital and has never been found. Her fingerprints and blue slippers were located near the river front by police who believe that she most likely took her life. These are the cases that have ended in the greatest tragedy that have made the paper. Make no mistake; there are so many more stories that have gone untold. Mental Health needs to be addressed in this city. There is a crisis before us and we must speak up.  We need to hear from Dwight Duncan, Sandra Pupetello and Bruce Crozier.  What is their government doing to address this crisis? While heath care is a provincial portfolio, we need to hear from Joe Comartin and Brain Masse and Jeff Watson. Is there any conversation at the federal level about this crisis in mental health care? We need to hear from our mayor and councillors. What is the city doing to advocate for funding for our hospitals and our mental health facilities as well as our local Canadian Mental health Association. I call us all to speak to those who are elected and demand more.  

As a people of God we know that we are required to do no less than speak up and speak out for those who are being forgotten.  Each and every person is a great gift of God and made in God’s image. We need to do our part in reminding those who feel alone and isolated because of mental illness that they are not alone and they can be an important and productive part of our society. The prophet Isaiah reminds us:

“God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
   He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
   And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
   gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
   young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
   They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
   they walk and don’t lag behind.”    –
Isaiah 40:28-31 (The Message)

Today we pray in thanksgiving for people like Michael Landsberg and Clara Hughes who have the courage to speak up and speak out about their own mental health. (You can view the interview from OTR by clicking here – see the site and send Michael a thank you note for hosting Clara Hughes).  Michael Landsberg noted on the program that he likes to say you have to ‘fight for your happiness.’ I would say that as a people we need to fight for everyone’s happiness and more than happiness we need to fight for everyone’s health.