Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Mental Illness?

It is thoughts, emotions, or behaviour that impair a person’s ability to think, feel or act and can result in social isolation, job loss, suicide, loss of family and friends and loss of housing.
Mental illness is not a developmental disability - it does not limit intelligence.  Each mental illness affects the brain in different ways and is clearly identified as an illness. a disease that affects the brain in various ways.  It is a real disease like cancer, diabetes or heart disease. 

Many people still believe that people only get mentally ill because they are weak or badThey are wrong – if you have a mental illness you are sick.

The most common mental illnesses are schizophrenia, major clinical depression, bipolar (manic-depressive), anxiety disorders and personality disorders.  All of these illnesses and others can be treated with up to 80% realizing some sort of recovery and function.  Unfortunately, some 75% of people with a mental illness never seek help because of a lack of knowledge, prejudice about mental illness or shame.

Facts about Mental Illness

  • At some point in their lifetime 20% of people in Canada will experience a mental illness and 3% will deal with a serious and often disabling mental illness.
  • Mental illnesses are medical conditions which have physical properties and physical origins and may be characterized by alterations in thinking, mood and behaviour and impair a person’s ability to function in daily life.
  • Major mental illnesses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders and other debilitating conditions.
  • Worldwide five of ten leading causes of disability are psychiatric disorders
  • While mental health patients make up the smallest percent of all hospitalizations, at just over 3%, they have the third highest contribution to total number of days (7.4%), and had the highest average length of stay of all patient groups, at 14.0 days, more than double the national average length of stay.
  • In contrast to all patient groups, only 50% of patients in the Mental Health group stayed in hospital for seven days or less. Nearly one-quarter of Mental Health patients stayed in hospital for 19 days or more; almost three times higher than all patient groups combined (7%).
  • 4,000 people a year commit suicide each year in Canada and for every completed suicide there are ten attempts
  • Suicide represents 24% of all deaths among young people 15 to 24 years old and 16% of deaths among 25 to 44 years
  • Mental health research attracts less than 5% of health research dollars while mental illnesses directly affect 20% of Canadians.
  • Vancouver Costal Health’s Mental Health Residential Services has a waiting  list for housing of  over 1,000 people
  • On average, it costs about $68 per day to provide community-based services to a person with mental illness. To treat the same person in hospital, however, would cost $481 per day
  • In the private sector, the cost of mental illness and addiction constitutes the most rapidly increasing health care expense.  It is estimated to cost Canadian companies currently about $18 billion per year.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability in the labour force and, with heart disease, is on track to become the 21st century’s leading source of work years lost through disability and premature death.
  • Great-West Life Assurance Company estimate that 30% of disability insurance claims relate to mental illnesses and in 75 per cent of the long-term files, depression is a secondary diagnosis.

Canadians have spoken in volume about what they see going on around them. The rich are getting richer and the poor are slipping through the cracks. After years of cuts to affordable housing, social services, mental health and addiction programs the number of people who are visibly homeless has skyrocketed.

While multi-million dollar condominiums are being constructed at a breath-taking pace, there are more and more people in need of social, mental health and housing supports. In Vancouver alone there are 1,291 people who are without housing and this number has more than doubled since 2002 when the number was 600 homeless people. The Pivot Legal Society projects that even with current commitments to build new housing there will be 3,177 people homeless in Vancouver in 2010.

This level of visible homeless used to be the problem of large cities but the explosion of the number of people “on the streets” has started to be evident in bedroom communities. In the Tri-Cities (Port Moody, Coquitlam, and Port Coquitlam) a six-month study estimated that 177 people slept outside in and around these “suburbs.” The same study identified that 80% are local people whose last address was in the Tri-Cities area. 

On federal budget day, March 19, 2007, the Globe & Mail reported the following from pollster Allan Gregg, chairman of the Strategic Counsel:
Mr. Gregg said the desire for social-program spending is probably due in part to Canadians' feelings that many are vulnerable, even though they have benefited from a strong economy.

“Normally that creates a sense of optimism and a very buoyant mood, and that's not there. And it's not there because people believe that in the face of all this prosperity, it's being unequally shared, first, and secondly that we've allowed our social safety net — our health care, education system, the quality of our cities — to unravel,” he said.

Canadians from coast-to-coast are alarmed about what is happening.  In the name of tax cuts and budget cuts and in the midst of prosperity, more and more people are becoming homeless.
The people who are currently homeless are vulnerable.  They have mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and a host of other illnesses.  In addition many are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.  Many of them face challenges in managing money; social skills; sleep hygiene, personal hygiene; anger management; keeping medical or other appointments; holding jobs; accessing services; medication management and other areas.

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