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Michael Kirby takes your questions

Globe and Mail Update

Mental health is one of the most pressing problems for us to deal with as a country, as a people and as individual Canadians, former Liberal senator Michael Kirby writes in Saturday's Globe essay. There is no health without mental health. One out of five of us is living with a mental illness. But most people are too embarrassed to admit it. That is because of stigma.

Stigma consists of the negative ways in which people living with mental illness are labelled, he writes. This labelling is so pernicious that people living with mental illness are often seen as nothing more than the illness itself. In fact, the Greek word stigma means a mark or brand, by which an animal or slave could be identified. When we classify people by their illness, we dehumanize them.

In 2006, the committee on social affairs, science and technology, of which Mr. Kirby was chair, produced the first national report on mental illness, Out of the Shadows at Last. The report included heart-wrenching stories about the impact of stigma and the shame that people living with mental illness suffer.

Only by making it completely acceptable to discuss issues relating to mental illness in public, can we can ever hope to fully eradicate the scourge of stigma, he writes.

Canadians must join this movement and encourage their friends, neighbours and fellow workers to bring mental health issues out into the open, to talk about them and volunteer for mental health causes, he writes.

What do you think? Would you like to know more about how to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness? Would you like to learn more about what Mr. Kirby heard on his travels around the country? Do you have any ideas?

We were pleased to have Mr. Kirby join us Monday at noon ET for a live discussion. Your questions and his answers are posted at the bottom of this page.

As a member of the Senate from 1984 to 2006, Mr. Kirby was the chairman of the standing senate committee on social affairs, science and technology, which studied the health-care system and produced the 2002 report, entitled The Health State of Canadians -- The Federal Role.

Under his leadership, the committee also produced the first-ever national report on mental health, mental illness and addiction, Out of the Shadows at Last.

Editor's Note: editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Christine Diemert, Thanks for joining us today. Before we begin with reader questions I'd like to ask more about your suggestion of a national organization that would work toward changing attitudes and behaviour surrounding mental illness in Canada. You mention illness-specific groups for breast cancer and diabetes as examples, with a national organization of volunteers and grassroots support. But what does it take to get something like that off the ground? Do you need one very rich benevolent donor or one very well known patron? Mental illness has so many variations, how can you organize under one umbrella?

Michael Kirby: To launch the national social movement for mental health does require some money initially. Some of this money will come from the Mental Health Commission budget but we will also be seeking a very small number of patrons, either individuals or corporations, to help us launch the organization later this year. I am very optimistic on the basis of initial discussion that we will be able to find the patrons.

If people want the commission to contact them as soon as the movement is launched, please send your e-mail address to

Marvin Ross from Dundas writes: It can be very difficult legally to have a delusional patient comply with treatment in this country. Even when patients do not have insight into their illness (often due to the anosognosia associated with schizophrenia), we still allow them the right to refuse treatment. As Dr. Fuller Torrey points out in his writings, this can lead to homelessness, incarceration, violence and victimization. Will your commission look at our legislation and the examples of some of the European countries like the Netherlands and Norway who seem to be doing so much better than we are?

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Return to Breakdown: Canada’s Mental Health Crisis

Face it. Fund it. Fix it.

In Breakdown, The Globe and Mail documents the enormous, unaddressed cost of mental illness to Canadian individuals, families and society. The series closes with a search for solutions.


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