Ottawa Citizen
Friday, October 04, 2002

1 in 4 young male deaths a suicide: study

Advocates say too little attention is given to Canadians' mental health

Melanie Brooks
The Ottawa Citizen

Of the nearly 4,000 young men who died in Canada in 1998, 25 per cent of them committed suicide, one of the shocking statistics released yesterday in the first-ever report on the prevalence of mental illness in the country.

More than 25 mental health groups gathered yesterday at the National Summit on Mental Illness and Mental Health in Gatineau, to create a national action plan for how they, and the government, should treat Canada's mental health "crisis."

Former federal finance minister Michael Wilson, whose son, Cameron, killed himself in 1995, gave the keynote speech, saying Canadians need to wake up to the reality of mental illness.

Mental illness affects everyone, the report suggests, and costs billions of dollars every year in health care costs and work days lost due to illness. The statistics reveal one in five Canadians will suffer a mental illness at some time in their lives, while the other four will be affected by an illness in a friend or family member. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world.

And, in a "disturbing trend," the study showed young people between the ages of 25 and 44 made up half of the hospitalizations for mental illness.

But mental health officials say Canada doesn't place the same importance on mental illness as it does other diseases such as cancer and diabetes. About 86 per cent of hospitalizations for mental illness in Canada occur in general hospitals, not special psychiatric care facilities.

The Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada, completed by 11 mental health groups including Health Canada and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, gathered data from general hospitals to give a snapshot of how mental illness is treated in Canada. But the report raised as many questions as it gave answers, said Dr. Paula Stewart, a researcher for Health Canada.

"This points to serious research questions," she said. "Are there more admissions to hospital for schizophrenia because people are more aware? Or is it because the number of people affected by the illness is going up?"

More research, and education about mental illness, is needed if we're going to have more than just data, said Mr. Wilson.

Mr. Wilson's son, Cameron, started showing signs of depression in his early 20s, but his family didn't know what it was. Doctors thought his lack of energy was due to a blood disorder; his parents thought his moodiness and retreat was because he was tired. Everyone was looking for a physical problem, not a mental one.

"It was probably there longer than we knew, because we didn't understand what was happening," said Mr. Wilson. "But six months before he died, when the hallucinations started, we knew there was something desperately wrong."

Doctors, social workers, tests, medications -- almost everything was done to try to help the young man overcome his illness.

The one thing that was missing, Mr. Wilson says now, was social support.

"He knew he needed help, but he wouldn't talk to us about it. He was afraid people would treat him differently. He cut himself off from his friends, who told us later that they would have wanted to help. That's why removing the stigma is such an important part of dealing with mental illness."

Cameron jumped in front of a train in Toronto on April 25, 1995. He was 29.

Mr. Wilson, now the CEO of Brinson Canada in Toronto, has become a vocal advocate for mental health awareness, committing his time to mental health groups such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Ontario government's task force on mental health.

At yesterday's summit, Mr. Wilson was presented with the Special Recognition Award for Mental Illness Awareness Week, which starts Sunday.

© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen