The Barrie Examiner

On Feb. 9, I will be rising in the House of Commons to speak in support of a Conservative colleague’s Private Member’s Bill during second reading.

I was proud to second MP Todd Doherty’s bill when it was first introduced in January 2016 and I am happy it will finally be debated and voted on in Parliament.

Bill C-211 asks the government to develop a comprehensive federal framework to address the challenges of recognizing the symptoms and providing timely diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Although the provinces and territories are responsible to administer and deliver health care within Canada and they decide what services are provided, the federal government can play an important role in establishing a national framework.

Cases of PTSD are significantly higher among first-responders, military members and even medical professionals like our dedicated nurses.

While suicide is the most drastic outcome of PTSD, many continue to suffer from depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

As the Official Opposition critic for Veterans Affairs, and having spent over three decades as a firefighter, I am all too familiar with the devastating effects PTSD has on those who wear the uniform and the negative impact it has on their families.

In a larger context, mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians whether through a family member, friend or colleague and 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

I applaud the ongoing efforts for better mental health care like Bell Let’s Talk Day and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Start Talking campaign. Raising awareness, changing attitudes and encouraging those who are suffering to ask for help are crucial in this battle to combat mental illness.

Some progress is being made, as 70% of respondents to a recent survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health said they believe attitudes about mental-health issues have changed for the better compared to five years ago. However, the stigma remains as a significant barrier with 40% of the same folks saying they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression without seeking medical help and 64% of Ontario workers would be concerned about how work would be affected if a colleague had a mental illness.

Another part of the problem is the way the health-care system approaches mental illness. Wait times for treatment of six months to a year are common in Ontario. Mental illness accounts for 10% of the burden of disease in the province while Queen’s Park only allocates about 7% of its health-care dollars to deal with this growing epidemic.

In my view, for far too long Ontario has been too focused on growing administration within the system rather than on front-line workers. The priority needs to be shifted from the boardroom back to the emergency room.

Mental illness, like PTSD, can strike at any time to anyone regardless of your age, race, gender, occupation or income level. It does not discriminate. We need to do everything we can, at both levels of government to meet this challenge head on.