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Canada short changes mental health care: Kirby

"There is a fundamental structural problem with the Canadian health care system," former Senator Michael Kirby told a conference on Health of the Homeless today.

"Mental health and addiction represent roughly 35 per cent of the disease burden in Canada, yet these illnesses receive only about 5 per cent of the resources," said Kirby, who now chairs the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Kirby argued that this structural problem costs Canadian taxpayers dearly, and diverts treatment from other health care.

"The reality is that many of these people don't get access to care until they are critically ill. At that point the cost is enormous," he said. "There's a whole lot of money that could be saved, if we only dealt with these problems at an early age."

Kirby said part of the problem is that many Canadians mistakenly believe that mental illnesses and addictions cannot be treated.

"The treatment outcomes for these conditions are every bit as good as for any other serious illness. People with mental illness can lead just as normal lives as individuals who have any other chronic illness," he said.

But the treatment is notable different. For example, Kirby said that more people have died while waiting to get into the new Burnaby treatment center than have died while on waiting lists for cardiac care.

"There's a huge lack of compassion on the part of Canadians toward individuals who suffer from mental illness, who are homeless, or who suffer as a result of substance abuse," Kirby said. "If you have all three, the discrimination is colossal."

Monte Paulsen reports for The Tyee.

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