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Michael Kirby takes your questions

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Michael Kirby: It is obviously critical that we balance the general privacy rights of Canadians with the need to ensure that individuals who need help, get help. One of the difficulties with current legislation is that it assumes an individual is capable of making an informed choice. In cases where this is not true, legislative changes need to be made to ensure that people get the help that they actually need, even if they think that they do not need it.

The law advisory committee of the Mental Health Commission is examining the legislative changes which are required.

Annick Aubert from toronto Canada writes: What do you say for those of us who have been carers nearly all our lives It is 28 full years for me? Have I treated him badly all these years? Am I not on duty 24/7, without recognition? encouragement? His last hospitalization was in 1998, he is on ODSP, and may be will be entitled to a supplement for his newly diagnosed diabetes, may be.... He has never collected any extra money for moving relocating or eye glasses or dentures. I top up his allowance each and every day. ...

Michael Kirby: Family members are in most cases the principal caregiver for people with a mental illness. Helping family members cope is one of the principal objectives of the mental health commission. It is why we have established a special advisory committee on family caregiver issues.

Today governments have failed to recognized, particularly in the tax system, the enormous contribution given by family caregivers and how much money their contributions save the public health-care system. Family care givers are essentially full-time unpaid health-care workers. The commission will find ways to help them.

K. Allen-Shepherd from Toronto Canada writes: It shouldn't be a wonder why many suffering from a mental illness can't work. How can anyone find a job where acceptance of this sort of disability is company policy? Fear and confusion most often follow an admission of bi-polar or depression conditions. Who wants to risk hiring a 'nut job?' What choice should a sufferer make on a resume or job application and disclose their illness truthfully and risk being abruptly eliminated from the list of eligible candidates; or keep the secret to get the job and collect a regular income until an issue arises and they're fired, again?

Michael Kirby: The reality is that many people, indeed most people, with a mental illness are capable of working. It is essential that we change the attitudes of employers and co-workers who continue to believe that every individual with a mental illness is either dangerous or incapable of being productive. It is encouraging that several leading Canadian employers are adopting new policies with respect to employing individuals who are living with a mental illness. These policies recognize that someone living with a mental illness can be a productive member of society even if minor accommodations need to be made in the workplace.

The public sector in general and governments in particular are the largest employers in the country. The mental health commission is encouraging them to become model employers with respect to mental health and to put into place our proposals for handling employees who suffer from a mental illness in such a way that these employees can continue to work and contribute to the government.

Molly Ware from Pasadena NL Canada writes: Thanks to the Globe and Mail for this series. And special gratitiude to Michael Kirby for the report 'Out of the Shadows at Last' and his work as chair of the Mental Health Commission. Also thank you for taking comments today. As a parent of a young person with schizophrenia, I'd like to commend Jesse Bigelow and his family for telling their story. One of the difficulties of being open about having a loved one with a psychotic mental illness is not only the fact of stigma but also the condition of 'anosognosia' which was referred to in Andre Picard's Thursday article. If your young person does not easily recognize that he is ill, how can you monitor the taking of medications and the development of an understanding of the signs and symptoms of relapse. It is a long process which will take years of trial and error and patience from all involved. No parent can survive it without community supports and education.

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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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