Statements & Speeches

Mental Illness Awareness Week

October 4, 2011

Honourable senators, October 2 to 8 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, which at its core is about dialogue.

Recently, Canadian hockey lost three men, each suffering from different forms of depression or substance abuse, but all ultimately ending their lives by suicide or accidental overdose. It is no secret that mental illness and addiction often coincide with poor social and economic conditions. However, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak were not living on the fringes of society; they were successful professional athletes. How, then, do we begin to understand these successive tragedies?

One answer to this question is the paralyzing stigma that surrounds mental illness in our national consciousness. The weight of this supposed disgrace, this unspoken rejection from society, is so profound that it has the power to dampen even the most affable personalities.

Honourable senators, one in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining four will have a friend, family member or colleague who struggles with a mental disorder. These statistics speak volumes about the significance of mental health in our society. Every Canadian will be touched by some form of mental illness, and no single class, gender or culture is immune. Seventy per cent of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence. Only one in five children receives the mental health services and support that they require. However, if care is received, a staggering 80 per cent of youth suffering from depression, for example, are able to regain a regular lifestyle.

Honourable senators, mental illness has been on the minds of Canadians for some time. The stories of these three young men have reawakened memories and sparked public dialogue. It is our responsibility to keep this conversation active and, in doing so, to enable those living with mental illness to find their own voice. However, first they must know that we will embrace this cause with as much compassion and energy as we pledge in the fight against physical illness. Mental Illness Awareness Week provides us with this opportunity.

Honourable senators. I ask you to join me in this conversation.