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  • Writer's pictureFuture Majority

Canadian Healthcare Must Include Comprehensive Support for Mental Health

Madeleine Barberian

I have always struggled with my mental health, but I have tried to never let it stop me from achieving. In high school I privately struggled through episodes of extreme highs and lows, but I loved my school, friends, and teachers. To everyone who didn’t know me privately, I was an academic, extra-curricular involved, student with a close group of friends. I was embarrassed of these private moments of helplessness and so I let very few people know I was struggling.

My high school only had 800 students so going to university in a city was a huge transition for me. None of my high school friends went to the same university or even lived in the same city as me—just like that I lost my support network that I didn’t even realize was vital to my wellbeing. I struggled to make friends, I struggled with the lack of interaction and support I felt I had from my professors, and I found myself losing my desire to engage in all the activities I loved so much in high school. My mental health got much worse over that year and when I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar type II along with several other mental health disorders by the Canadian Mental Health Association, I thought that I had found my solution. In reality, this was just the start of my problems.

I was given several different medications covered under OHIP+ all of which made me feel the same or worse, impacting how I functioned at university and my job. When I asked my doctor for a non-medicinal approach to feeling better, I was put on a six-month waitlist for any relevant programs. If I wanted anything sooner, private therapy was my only option, but I would have to find a way to ask my parents to pay for it and I barely felt comfortable asking them to pay for my Presto card let alone talk about mental illness.

An overwhelming amount of stigma was present in all of these choices as well as other decisions I was making as a young adult. I was asked to disclose any diagnosis of bipolar or other mental health conditions when applying at certain financial institutions for loans or insurance.

I thought I might find access to mental health support at the universities I’ve attended as it was often flaunted in their pamphlets, however in reality they could not keep up with the demand from students and the range of care needed. Figuring out how to live without the mental health support I need has been challenging. It cost me my first two years of university life with spotty grades, almost no club involvement, few friends, and a generally feeling sad and misunderstood—and I’m not alone.

While my journey with mental health has been difficult it is unfortunately common. By the CMHA estimates, 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder and suicide is among the leading causes of death between the ages of 15 to 24. Within racialized and economically vulnerable communities in Canada, these numbers are even more shocking. Joining Future Majority has been part of my process of advocating for myself and others like me.

I want to live in a Canada where we use a health card, not a credit card, to access mental health services. Where booking a therapist is no different than seeing a doctor. This future I want to live in would also ensure Black & Indigenous communities have the access they need, in the way they need it, to these essential services. My future of Canadian healthcare is preventative and holistic, and it must include comprehensive support for mental health.

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