For Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty, Mental Illness Awareness Week isn’t something to talk about. It’s something to live through.
When Doherty was 14 years old, his best friend committed suicide.
“I wish I had the opportunity to tell him our world is a better place with him in it,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Mental illness has had an ongoing effect on Doherty’s life.
“I’ve seen far too many friends and family members slip through the cracks,” he said. “I’ve attended far too many funerals for teenagers, veterans or first responders that lost the fight with mental illness. I’ve sat with far too many families left behind to pick up the pieces.”
Doherty advises newly-minted Conservative leader Erin O’Toole on mental health and wellness, and he tabled and passed a bill to ensure federal-provincial co-operation for people suffering from PTSD. Doherty said O’Toole helped him usher that bill through, and he counts him as a close friend in parliament.
“They suffer in silence,” he said. “Society is quick to ridicule or disbelieve or make fun of people that are struggling with mental illness and injury.”
Doherty compared fighting a mental illness to fighting an infection or going to the hospital with a broken arm. He added if those things happened to him, he’d receive well wishes from across the country, but if he was sidelined with mental illness, those things would be lacking.
“You’re left to fight it alone. My message is that you’re not alone. There is strength in numbers,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on people struggling with mental heath, causing increased social isolation. Doherty noted this hit populations like seniors especially hard.
“I truly believe our path to [a COVID-19] recovery must be looking at a sound mental health plan,” he said.
Another group affected by the pandemic is people living in remote places.
“Our most vulnerable populations are by nature of our geographical locations,” Doherty said. “Some of our most vulnerable population bases are often times isolated, often times live in remote communities, where the support services and life is not on par with what you see in communities that are less remote … you’re left to fend with what you have.”
Doherty is also working on de-stigmatizing mental illness. He’s asking Canada’s Minister of Employment, Carla Qualtrough, to apologize for saying she had “PTSD” from working on the ill-fated Phoenix pay system.
“I take offense to a minister of the Crown of all people that would make a snide comment,” he said. “It’s snide comments like that that further stigmatize and minimize the very real impact of mental illness and injury on Canadians.”
Doherty said federal and provincial governments need to work together to effectively treat mental illness in Canada.
“Leadership has to begin at the top, and by the top, I mean at the federal level,” he said. “I think we have to work with our provincial colleagues to make sure any funding gets to where it needed the most, and it doesn’t stop at the borders or provincial capitals.”
Mental Illness Awareness Week is recognized every fall in Canada and is being observed Oct. 4-10 this year. According to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, one in five Canadians is affected by mental illness.
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