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Lieutenant-governor launches new circle on mental health

By: By Ryan Tumilty

  |  Posted: Saturday, Oct 08, 2011 08:21 am

Lt.-Gov. Donald S. Ethell speaks about the importance of trying to end the stigma around mental health illness at Government House Wednesday during the launch of the Lieutenant Governor's Circle on Mental Health and Addiction.
Lt.-Gov. Donald S. Ethell speaks about the importance of trying to end the stigma around mental health illness at Government House Wednesday during the launch of the Lieutenant Governor's Circle on Mental Health and Addiction.
GREGORY YAPP/St. Albert Gazette

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Lt. Gov. Donald Ethell launched a new group focused on mental health on Wednesday, aiming to use his position to help end the stigma around mental illness.

Ethell launched the Lieutenant Governor’s Circle on Mental Health and Addiction at Government House with dozens of people involved in mental health on hand. The new circle intends to use forums, a speaker’s series and a new awards program to address mental health in Alberta.

Ethell, a retired colonel with the armed forces, fought his own battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said Wednesday that society is moving in the right direction when it comes to the stigma around mental health, but there is more work to be done.

“You go back 10 or 15 years ago, the stigma was such that people wouldn’t seek assistance when they had a problem, heaven forbid going through a door that says mental health. That wouldn’t happen.”

Ethell said his disorder manifested itself through excessive gambling, drinking and smoking.

“I make no excuses by standing up front and saying I have a problem, which I have solved. I have no problem standing up and saying we need help with this,” he said. “I have no problem using my position to advertise that need in our society.”

The new circle has a number of Albertans involved in mental health and addiction. The forums and speaker’s series are still in the works, but five awards were revealed Wednesday.

The True Awards are being set up for a variety of people working in mental health, ranging from institutions and people that have helped reduce stigma, to people who have dealt with their own mental health problems and then moved on to help others.

Liberal Senator Roméo Dallaire was on hand for the announcement of the new circle and applauded the initiative.

Dallaire fought a public battle with post traumatic stress disorder or operational stress injury, as it is also called. Dallaire told the assembled group that he had attempted suicide four times; that he took nine pills a day and that he had been in therapy for 14 years.

He said mental illness is hard for others to accept, because it doesn’t always leave visible scars.

“If you lost an arm you can see that, but if it is between the ears then it is very difficult.”

Dallaire emphasized it is important to remember that mental illness can have fatal consequences.

“We know we have lost 157 of our soldiers, sailors and airpersons in Afghanistan in the field. The question is how many have we lost subsequently, through the operational stress injury, to suicide and where do they stand in the order of things?”

Both Ethell and Dallaire said they focused on post-traumatic stress because of their personal experiences, but all mental illness deserved to be brought to the forefront.

Michael Pietrus, with the Mental Health Commission of Canada said stigma was a major barrier in treatment of the mentally ill.

“Two thirds of people with a mental illness will not seek help because they are afraid of being labelled or shunned,” he said. “Only one in six children who are diagnosed with a mental illness will actually receive treatment.”

Pietrus applauded both Ethell and Dallaire for sharing their own stories.

Health minister Gene Zwozdesky was on hand for the announcement and said he welcomed the lieutenant governor’s involvement in the issue.

“It is coming from a very high level, the highest in our province, the vice-regal level and that adds to the significance of the issue.”

Zwozdesky said the lieutenant governor’s work complements some of what the province is trying to do and he was looking forward to the increased attention on the issue.


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