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Considering Canada’s Mental Health Strategy…

September 2nd, 2011

Globe and Mail, August 31, 2011

Globe and Mail, August 31, 2011

The Globe and Mail recently published (August 31, 2011) an article by Andre Picard (their Public Health reporter), entitled, Mental Health Strategy Doesn’t Go Far Enough. In this article, Picard discusses Canada’s confidential and long-anticipated draft for its mental health strategy. The article explains the need for a strategy and its purpose, and  notes that Canada is the only G8 country without such a strategy. To this end, I think the article is useful.  However, while Picard is very well intentioned, one can’t help but notice that his major criticism of what is in the draft is directed at what he describes as the lack of funding devoted to brain research and traditional psychiatric ways of treating the more serious mental health conditions. He doesn’t like the strategy’s focus on a ‘recovery model’ (the notion that people will get better with support) in mental health…he would prefer one that focuses more on brain science.

In respect to funding for mental health, the reality is (and this is not noted in the article) that inordinate amounts of money have been and are currently being directed towards brain research (remember the 90′s…the decade of the brain). Indeed the search for the “cause’” of schizophrenia has been going on for more years than we care to remember, and at one time or another pretty much every organ system in the human body has been cited as it’s cause.  It is conceivable that we are not even classifying this illness (or other psychotic illnesses for that matter) correctly.

The long and short of my argument is that we need to view all mental illness holistically, that the mental illnesses psychologists and psychiatrists are seeking to alleviate in people invariably incorporate a complex interaction of psychological, genetic-developmental, biological and social factors. Making arguments for discrete ’causes’, or indeed ‘leading causes’ for that matter, is reductionistic and misleading. Of course it is important to allocate funding to further our understanding of brain function, but don’t let us tow a particularly popular current line of thinking and make exaggerated claims or inferences either about what we can achieve in allaying people’s suffering from an understanding of brain function alone. Indeed, if the brain is the primary focus of our understanding of mental health,  people are likely to be disappointed.