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Mental-health panel gets B.C. rep

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    Mental-health panel gets B.C. rep PM names Delta nurse and native thought leader to commission aiming to improve treatment of mentally ill Jonathan Woodward
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2007
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      Mental-health panel gets B.C. rep
      PM names Delta nurse and native 'thought leader' to commission aiming to improve treatment of mentally ill

      Jonathan Woodward
      Vancouver Sun; with files from Canwest News Service

      Saturday, September 01, 2007

      An Alberta-born Cree woman who survived a residential-school background to become a nurse and a "thought leader" for first nations groups will be B.C.'s representative on the newly minted Mental Health Commission of Canada.

      Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Friday that Madeleine Dion Stout of Delta will be one of 11 directors of the new federal agency, which is to revamp the way Canadians with mental health problems are treated.

      "Mental illness has a significant impact on all of our lives," Harper said in Ottawa.

      "It costs our economy billions and our society untold grief," he said. "In short, it's a major national health problem."

      The creation of the commission marks the beginning of a 10-year campaign against the stigma suffered by many who face mental illness problems, from schizophrenia to clinical depression, said Stout, 61.

      That stigma prevents people from seeking treatment, but also prevents institutions from designing appropriate care, she said.

      "There's a lot of fear and ambivalence about mental illness," Stout said. "We rally for people who have been stricken with cancer, but we're less likely to rally for people with mental illness.

      "Mental illness doesn't discriminate," she said. "It happens in the best of communities, and a misconception leads to situations where people won't go for help."

      Stout grew up at a residential school in St. Paul, Alta., surrounded by friends who faced abuse at the hands of the school.

      She said she wasn't abused herself, but she experienced the separation from home and culture that led many of her generation to become depressed and suicidal.

      "We weren't allowed to go home, so being separated from my parents, my grandfather, my community, has left an indelible mark on my spirit, on my soul," she said.

      "That multiplies and manifests itself in suicidal tendencies, mental health problems, gambling. We understand this deeply and when you understand this deeply, you wear it," she said.

      Special attention needs to be paid to the plight of native people, whose rural communities are disproportionately wracked with depression, she said.

      Stout described herself as an aboriginal "thought leader," which means an intellectual who turns her mind and perspective to solving native issues.

      She has been given an honourary doctorate by the University of B.C. and named an honourary professor at UBC's School of Nursing.

      The commission, which will be led by former Liberal senator Michael Kirby, was recommended by a Senate social affairs committee that produced an extensive report on mental health in 2006.

      The Conservatives are following through on the senators' recommendation for a national body on mental health and in the 2007 budget, $10-million over two years was promised to establish the commission.

      Among its other stated goals will be to attack a "knowledge gap" by creating a national knowledge exchange centre where researchers and the general public can access the latest information on mental illness.

      The final role of the commission is to develop a mental health strategy for Canada.

      The announcement comes on the heels of a study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information released Thursday, which said that mental health and behavioural disorders were responsible for more than half of the visits to hospital by homeless people.


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