Following intense lobbying and activism of associations, groups and corporations involved in the delivery of mental health services in the country, the Federal Government requested four years ago that the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology established a National Commission of Inquiry into the Mental Health of Canadians.
This Commission led by the Honourable Michael J.L. Kirby, hence the Kirby Commission, produced a major report titled "Out of the Shadows at Last" that appeared in May 2006 (the Kirby Report). The timing of the Report followed data on prevalence and service utilization obtained from the on-going national studies on the Health of Canadians in 2002 by Statistics Canada (Report on the Mental Health of Canadians, 2002).
The Kirby Report substantiated the findings from Statisitcs Canada about the extent of mental problems in the country and added qualitative reports of individual Canadians on the extent and negative impacts of mental conditions as well as levels of stigmatization and discrimination against mentally ill persons, problems on the delivery of services and difficulties in accessing those already existing.
One of the major findings of the Kirby Commission was the disatisfaction of Canadians with the way mental health policy is addressed in the country, where by virtue of constitutional division of powers, health is a Provincial responsibility.
This means that the Federal Government has little say on how health services are provided other than enforcing national standards through the Canada Health Act and urging Provinces to deliver high quality health services under the veiled threat of economical sanctions as the Federal Government is the largest funder of health services in all the Provinces.
This arrangements, however, have been responsible for the Federal Government to abstain from being more active in devising policies and setting standards for particular groups of persons whose health is impaired past the acute stage of their condition. Mental patients fall into this category. In order to solve these difficulties and to develop national policies on mental health as well as provide leadership on prevention and promotion strategies, the Kirby Report proposed that the Federal Government establish a permanent National Mental Health Commission.
After more than a year of expectations among Canadians about the fate of this recommendation the Federal Government has acted and moved to establish such Commission under the leadership of Senator Kirby. Mental patients and their families, lobby groups on mental health and service providers are all united and hopeful that finally, mental health has arrived into the consciousness of high level bureaucracies and the political masters of the country.
The Commission has just been announced so a future Summary of News from Zone 1 will promise to provide more information into its workings and functions as well as its progress.
Dr. Julio Arboleda-Florez
WPA Zonal Representative for Canada