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Letter: Mental health and addictions — a new beginning

As we continue our discussions about the mental health and addictions crisis in our province, it’s time to reflect on what steps are necessary to more proactively respond to what is the most critical health issue facing most families. Despite our best efforts to date, mental health and addictions are part of what we are as a society. Perhaps more importantly, it is a harsh indication of the significant changes and challenges happening in our everyday life, particularly as we attempt to adjust to what I consider a most difficult and changing social and economic environment.

Let’s remind ourselves that one in five of us are coping with a mental health issue, and while we are listening to that alarming statistic, one has to wonder if we are hearing about the severe and overwhelming shock and grief that families are experiencing on a daily basis. Mental health and addictions are a complex and difficult health issue and it will take a generation of our best efforts before we are satisfied that we are providing reasonable and fair access to adequate treatment and support services.


Despite our best efforts to date, mental health and addictions are part of what we are as a society.

However, we are making good progress, and the recent work of the All-Party Committee and the very strong advocacy of Health Minister John Haggie give us reason to be optimistic that by working together we can achieve significant breakthroughs. While government has to provide the broad leadership and necessary programs, it’s incumbent on each of us to accept some responsibility and accountability for being part of the solution. As employers, labour and community support groups, we must rally to this challenge and support those of us who reach out in their own way for a helping hand. We are touched almost every day by someone in our families, workplaces and social circles, and therefore the opportunity exists to help out and help up those around us.

Most mental health and addictions families are treated on an outpatient basis, so you and I are in a good position to be informal caregivers, realizing that good conversation, caring and reducing isolation are a fundamental and important part of the recovery process.

Let’s step back and judge ourselves on how we react and respond to mental health issues. Are we doing what we can to support and help up those who reach out to us for caring and understanding? As someone who has experience in this area, I offer a number of modest suggestions for each one of us to consider.

First and most important is the need to be more sensitive and understanding of those who require our support. Secondly, let’s provide encouragement to seek out and to participate in recovery and treatment programs and not to be discouraged by what can be at times an unfriendly system. Thirdly, let’s create a more respectful and dignified life environment for those who need an additional support, it’s the least we can do for one of us. Finally, let’s support our frontline community support groups. They are doing amazing work as non-judgmental caregivers and have to be recognized and encouraged for being available during the most difficult times. For every dollar invested in these groups they can deliver $10 in volunteer support.

We expect government to provide the required treatment and support services however, as individuals working together we can make a powerful and positive contribution to our collective efforts to reduce and — hopefully, in time — eliminate the uncertainty that exists in many families. I challenge each one of us to rise to the occasion, lessen our bias and fears and reach out to the person next to you and do what you can to be supportive and understanding. One individual can make a difference, an army of individuals can make a big difference.

It’s clear to me that we are making direct and noticeable improvements in our overall efforts to respond to and care for our mental health and addictions families. We need to build on this progress with an unrelenting commitment and renewed obligation to what I consider a new beginning.


Vince Withers

Chair, Eating Disorder Foundation of N.L.


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