Reforming The Mental Health System Part 1

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Mental illness exists in every community and in every social class. “Mental illnesses indirectly affect all Canadians through illness in a family member, friend or colleague” (“A Report on Mental Illness in Canada”, 2002). Although the current mental health system has helped thousands of people, in order for the Canadian mental health system to be even more effective, changes need to be implemented, in order to increase its efficacy and better serve patients and their individual needs.

Determining what, if any, mental illness a prospective patient has is the first crucial step in helping patients in the mental health system. The current mental health system fails to deal with the issue of discrimination and differences which exist in race and gender, as female patients report being less than satisfied with their diagnosis experience. Discrimination is prevalent in the diagnosis stage of mental heath care, and in order for people to be accurately diagnosed, measures need to be put in place in order to help eliminate bias which can leads to over-diagnosis, and mis-diagnosis.

Women complained about being treated impersonally and unsympathetically and given a diagnosis that has little to do with the problems and difficulties of their everyday lives. Once assigned, the diagnosis takes on a life of its own and a woman’s behaviour may be reinterpreted or reframed to fit with this impression (Penfold, 2001, p.178).

Doctors need to be trained to focus not only on what a patients symptoms are, but what causes them, which the current mental health system evidently fails to address. The diagnosis can’t be the main focus, because if it is then it will overshadow the patient. This reinforces the importance that a diagnosis is delayed until all symptoms and potential causes have been assessed, so as to avoid tunnel vision which seems to result once a diagnosis is made. It is vital for a diagnosis not to be rushed in order for doctors to be able to accurately diagnose patients, and to reduce over-diagnosis and mis-diagnosis. Therefore, doctors should be allowed to narrow down the possible diagnoses of a patient during the first visit, but should have to see and speak with the patient a second time before being allowed to decide on a diagnosis. As well, because people’s gender and race places a role in how they live and how they view the world, doctors need to be aware of cultural and gender differences which affect people. A reformed mental health care system would mean changes in the training process, with the creation of a training program in which courses on culture and gender are taught, as well as courses which emphasize, first and foremost, the importance of discovering if there is a mental illness and then diagnosing what it could be.

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