Stigma of mental illness pervasive: CMA head
10% of Canadians think those who are ill could 'just snap out of it' if they wanted to, new survey find
MONTREAL — Almost half of Canadians believe that a diagnosis of mental illness is merely an "excuse for poor behaviour and personal failings" and one in 10 thinks that people with mental illness could "just snap out of it if they wanted," according to the startling findings of a new opinion poll.
The survey, commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association, shows that the stigma of mental illness remains pervasive, making it the "final frontier of socially acceptable discrimination," Canada's top doctor says.
Brian Day, a Vancouver orthopedic surgeon and president of the CMA, said the survey "shines a harsh, and frankly unflattering, light on the attitudes we Canadians have concerning mental health."
But he added that it is best to expose such views and tackle them head-on rather than allow stigma to fester. "It's important that these data be out there and we discuss them," Dr. Day said.
The survey of 1,002 Canadian adults, conducted by Ipsos-Reid, also found that:
One in four Canadians is afraid of being around someone who suffers from serious mental illness.
Only half of those surveyed would tell friends or co-workers that a family member was suffering from mental illness. By contrast, 72 per cent would openly discuss cancer and 68 per cent would talk about diabetes in the family.
Only 16 per cent said they would marry someone who suffered from mental illness, and 42 per cent said they would no longer socialize with a friend diagnosed with a mental illness.
Half of Canadians think alcoholism and drug addiction are not mental illnesses.
One in nine people think depression is not a mental illness, and one in two think it is not a serious condition.
Canadians are split as to whether the increase in the number of people with mental illness is because of better diagnosis, or the result of increasing stresses of modern life.
Jean-Bernard Trudeau, director of professional and hospital services at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal, said the attitudes found in the survey are "deplorable but not that surprising."
However, he said, such views are not malicious, but rather the result of ignorance. "People are afraid of what they don't know. It just shows that we have to make a lot more effort to educate the public about mental illness," Dr. Trudeau said.
According to the new survey, three in every five Canadians think that mental-health care is under-funded. And 72 per cent think financing of mental-health treatment and prevention should be on a par with that of physical health.
About one in four Canadians will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives. Contrary to popular belief, however, the vast majority recover. Mental illness costs the national economy $51-billion a year. according to research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
The survey on mental health is part of a larger National Report Card on Health Care, which the CMA publishes annually. This year, two-thirds of Canadians accorded the overall quality of the health system a grade of A or B, up slightly from last year. A failing mark was given by 7 per cent.
What doctors say
86 per cent of family doctors say they provide care for patients with chronic mental illnesses.
64 per cent of family doctors rate access to psychiatrists for their patients as being fair or poor.
Only 19 per cent of psychiatrists can see an urgent case within one day.
Psychiatrists are the worst-paid specialists in Canada, earning on average $175,444, about half as much as dermatologists.
The average waiting time to see a child psychiatrist is 5½ months; for adults, it's slightly shorter.
Sources: National Physician Survey; Wait Time Alliance; Canadian Institute for Health Information