The Agenda's Mental Health Programming

March 6, 2012: The Origins of Our Mental Malaise

The Agenda kicked off the first of its many programs devoted to mental health with a debate about nature vs. nurture. Where does mental illness come from?


March 20, 2012: Depressed Over Antidepressants

The Agenda continued its in-depth look at mental health issues by exploring the controversial world of antidepressants. Are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) being over-used? Are their side effects completely understood? 

April 3, 2012: Our Addicted Brain

The Agenda explores the science behind addiction: What happens to the brain when it's in the clutches of a substance or behaviour it craves? 


April 17, 2012: Mental Health at Work

The mental health of Canadian workers is the elephant in the room. It's not something we talk about with our colleagues, or our superiors, but it affects many of us. From cost to stigma, coping to sharing, The Agenda examines mental health in the workplace. 

May 1, 2012: Mental Illness in the Family

What happens when a family member suffers from a mental illness? From blame, to shame, to stigma, to the legal implications and pressures faced by caregivers, and, finally, to coping, The Agenda examines the family affair that is so often mental illness.

May 7, 2012: Disturbed Minds or Manuals?

The upcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the cause of a major debate within the psychiatric community. The Agenda asks, in a special episode recorded at the University of Toronto's Hart House: What will changes to the DSM mean for those who live with mental illness? Is more mental illness diagnosed today, or are there simply more labels?

May 8, 2012: Can Mental Health Care Be Fixed?

Canada has a new national mental health strategy: "Changing Directions, Changing Lives," a product of the Mental Health Canadian Commission of Canada. Will its recommendations be funded? Will it deliver help to those who need it most? 

May 9, 2012: Living with Depression

Depression and anxiety affect more Canadians than any other mental health issue. The Agenda examines what new treatments and therapies are on the horizon in combating the illness. Also: For many families, depression is a family affair. Jordan Peterson and his daughter, Mikhaila, share their story.

May 10, 2012: Understanding Schizophrenia

In the fourth of five mental health-related programs during Mental Health Week, The Agenda examines schizophrenia, the most misunderstood and feared mental illness. What causes schizophrenia? Is it a disease of the brain, or a medical condition caused by social circumstances? 

May 11, 2012: The Language of Mental Health

When diagnosing mental illness, words matter. Some words empower, while others stigmatize. How do those with mental illness want to be identified?


Guest Blog Posts

Solving the Mental Health Housing Crisis

By Steve Lurie, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Toronto Branch

Thirty years ago when a group of mental health service providers published a report calling for more supportive housing in Toronto for people living with mental illness, there were 110 supportive housing units in all of Toronto. Most people discharged from psychiatric facilities who couldn't return home went into substandard boarding homes and rooming houses.

Today there are over 4,400 supportive housing units available across the city, and a coordinated wait list of over 5,000. Most people on the wait list will have to wait two or more years to get the housing they need.

Why have we not been able to solve this problem despite 30 years of effort? There are a number of reasons:

1) The bulk of mental health service funding still goes to doctors, hospitals, and drugs instead of community supports. ...

Read the rest of Steve Lurie's post.

Preventing and Curing Mental Illness

By Roger McIntyre, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the University of Toronto, and Head of the Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit at the University Health Network in Toronto

A tectonic plate shift in the broad-based direction of psychiatric research and treatment is occurring.

In every area of medicine, except psychiatry, prevention and cure are a lingua franca.

Hitherto, psychiatry has not emphasized the importance of prevention and cure, and this is going to change – it must change! – for several reasons: First, mental disorders account for approximately 30% of the total disability affecting individuals globally across high income, as well as low and middle income, countries. The disability associated with the mental disorders among young people (i.e., less than age 45) is greater than many chronic medical diseases combined (e.g., cardiovascular disorder). Moreover, several mental disorders are associated with excess mortality due to natural and unnatural causes. The reason for the excess mortality are several, and include an over-representation of risk factors (e.g., smoking; insufficient access to timely, primary, and preventative health care), as well as suicide. ...

Read the rest of Roger McIntyre's post.

The Highs and Lows of Bipolar Disorder

By photographer and author Barry Shainbaum

Bipolar disorder was an illness that I wrestled with for many years. After a psychotic break at age 18, I was told that I would be sick and need to be   taken care of for the rest of my life.

My illness began with delusions and hallucinations, with an initial diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. A few years later, after a debilitating depression and manic attack, I received a diagnosis of manic depression, an illness now known as bipolar disorder.

The highs and lows of bipolar disorder had a devastating effect on my life. I lost a year of high school in 1970, a year of university in 1972, and I completely stopped functioning for three years in the late 80s. During those three years, I lost my business, my belongings ended up in a storage locker, and I was forced to live in a psychiatric boarding house after a run-in with the law when I was sick and suicidal. I did not actually attempt suicide, as I believed I could not kill my soul. Life was so bleak living in the boarding house that I looked forward to my weekend sentence at Mimico Correctional Centre. ...

Read the rest of Barry Shainbaum's post

Mental Health Challenges in Developing Countries

By Pamela Kanellis, Program Officer, Global Mental Health, with Grand Challenges Canada

When one thinks about health challenges in developing countries, diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other tropical diseases quickly come to mind, but few think of mental health. In fact, three-quarters of those afflicted with mental disorders live in developing countries. Mental disorders are a leading cause of disability globally and represent 14 per cent of the global burden of disease. Despite the enormous health burden, it remains one of the most neglected diseases.

The short film "Go Away Evil" by Delaney Ruston, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, brings to light the importance of mental health care in developing countries by capturing the personal struggle of Buyiswa, a single mother supporting her family while suffering from depression and bipolar disorder. I had the opportunity to meet Delaney in Cape Town, South Africa at the African Footprint in Global Mental Health conference as she embarked on the challenge of shooting a film that would capture these untold stories. Driven by her passion to raise awareness of the severity of these issues, Delaney partnered with local researchers entrenched in one of the largest townships in Cape Town to learn more about these stories. While Buyiswa’s story is one of hope, an estimated 85 per cent of those suffering from severe mental illnesses in developing countries do not receive needed treatments. ...

Read the rest of Pamela Kanellis' post

Bipolar Disorder, My Family, and Me

By Marianne Andaloro

In the spring of 2005, at 32-years-old, I faced my absolute worst fear and received a diagnosis of “high functioning” bipolar disorder type I, while experiencing a serious psychotic break. Despite a dramatic and traumatic hospital submission to a psychiatric crisis ward, I could not believe the news I had received. Prior to this, I had tortured my parents with my outlandish behaviour off and on for years. 

Not being diagnosed until I was 32 came at a steep price of failed relationships, walking out of my loving parents’ home at 17-years-old, and barely even speaking with my family for several years after. Within three months of leaving home, I lost 80 pounds, dropped out of high school, and was trying to subsist on a minimum wage job, thinking there was nothing really wrong with me. I blamed my parents, accused them of emotional abuse, and took all of my angst, agitation, and frustration out on them. My mother and father were deeply wounded by my actions, and my mother would cry for days in my absence. I had little patience or use for my younger sister, and this hurt her deeply, as she had always looked up to me. My sister felt protective of my parents, as they were so hurt by me, and eventually she became very angry with me. My father was at a loss as to how to get me to come home, and how to ease his own, my mother’s, and my sister's suffering. They just saw their generally loving and obedient daughter behaving in ways that were totally out of character, and chalked it up to normal teenage angst. I simply could not see the problem was inside of me, and truly believed my family was the cause of my emotional torture. What was working against me was the fact I was “high functioning;” I was able to hide my emotional outbursts from everyone but my parents, whom I saw as the root of all my issues. ...

Read the rest of Marianne Andaloro's post.

The Mental Health Helpline: Answering the Phone

By Tricia Korbut, Supervisor with ConnexOntario's Mental Health Helpline

“I’m not sure if this is the right phone number but I really don’t know where to start” is a common refrain heard by the Information and Referral Specialists who answer the Mental Health Helpline

Finding answers when feeling overwhelmed and struggling with your own illness, or trying to find help for family and friends, can be difficult when you don’t know how or where to begin. Our callers will share that they’ve spent a lot of their time pouring through the phone book looking for help and, by the time they reach us, their frustration and confusion is understandable.

"What is a case worker?"

"What is a Form 1?"

"My daughter is in crisis, where can I get her help?"

These are but a few examples of the types of calls we receive. Our role is to help Ontarians navigate the mental health system, and to educate them as well. ...

Read the rest of Tricia Korbut's post

Children's Mental Health: A Call to Action; A Message of Hope

By Gordon Floyd, President and CEO of Children's Mental Health Ontario

The mental health of our children and youth is being talked about more and more every day. As it should be. Gone are the days when we thought that mental health issues were limited to adults facing adult challenges.

We have the numbers: One in five kids in Ontario struggles with their mental health. Less than 20 per cent of them will get the treatment they need.

Shame is one of the most challenging feelings we battle when we have a mental illness. Whether valid or not, the fear that we may be judged for being different, or for not being able to "snap out of it," can be paralyzing.

How do we empower our young people to open up about their struggles, and, in turn, get them the help they need?

We need to be open and we need to be educated. Let’s remove the stigma from mental health and start talking about it. ...

Read the rest of Gordon Floyd's post.

Overcoming Schizophrenia

By Marie Asuncion

Being diagnosed with schizophrenia at 15 was by far one of the most challenging events of my life. A few months before my first episode, I dealt with insomnia. I would stay up all night listening to the voices in my head, a hallucination many people experience with mental illness. The clock would keep ticking, until 4:00 a.m., and beyond, and I’d still be awake. I'd pray, hoping for my paranoia to settle, but I was as anxious as ever, all the time, day and night.

On the night of my first schizophrenic episode, I had locked myself in my family room. A voice was telling me l was going to hurt my mother, and then myself. My mother noticed that there was something wrong with me. She remembers me telling her that night that I was able to hear ghosts, and that I could smell something burning. She called my father, who came home from his night shift with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). I was taken to emergency at SickKids hospital in Toronto. Within a week, I was transferred to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and saw a psychiatrist and occupational therapist. I was diagnosed with First Episode Psychosis, put on medicine, and began therapy. ...

Read the rest of Marie Asuncion's post.


Mental Health Q&A: Three Questions for Elaine Flis

Steve Paikin: I've known Elaine Flis for probably 20 years. Her father Jesse was a respected member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park from 1979 to 1984, and again from 1988 to 1997. And Elaine always had plans to run some day herself – until some devastating mental health issues presented themselves in her life and made those plans impossible. Elaine, when did you first notice something was amiss?

Elaine Flis: Thinking back, I've always felt something was wrong but didn't know what it was, and was afraid to talk about it because I didn't know what was happening with me. When I was 15, I tried to commit suicide but never sought help; I was just thankful I didn't succeed. In university, doctors queried clinical depression but I refused to believe it. I was first diagnosed with severe clinical depression after university. About five years ago, the medications stopped working and I was referred to a psychiatrist. After a few visits, she diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and it really was an "a-ha" moment for me. It finally all made sense. ...

Read the rest of the Q&A with Elaine Flis.

Mental Health Q&A with Dr. Katy Kamkar

On Wednesday, May 9, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. we hosted a live Q&A with Dr. Katy Kamkar, Clinical Psychologist in the Work, Stress, and Health Program, at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). 

You can watch a replay of the Q&A below:

Mental Health Q&A: Three Questions for Michael Landsberg

Steve Paikin: Michael, you and I have been friends for more than 30 years, and last year, you were kind enough to appear on The Agenda to talk about your own struggles with mental health issues. At that time, you told us that, after years of sort of living under a black cloud, you were finally able to identify and treat the problems you were having. Update us. How are you doing now? 

Michael Landsberg: I'm doing great. I say it nine times. Then, once, I say, "I'm doing okay." I'm good nine out of 10 days. Which – considering where I was – is a huge blessing. You seldom "beat" depression. In my case I have tamed it into submission. ...

Read the rest of the Q&A with Michael Landsberg.

Mental Health Q&A: Three Questions for Catherine Pringle

Steve Paikin: I first met Catherine Pringle when she was former Ontario PC Leader John Tory’s press secretary.  She was so competent at her job, I never had an inkling that she’d had a history with mental illness, until I saw her mother Valerie, the broadcaster, talk about it on television. So Catherine, tell us, when did you first notice something was amiss?

Catherine Pringle: Now that I look back on it, I think the signs had always been there, but it wasn't until I was in my first "real" job at age 23 that I had a really bad episode of anxiety and depression and decided to seek help. I had experienced many panic attacks over the years and as I got older they seemed to get progressively worse. For a long time I had no idea what it was. The episodes were usually in and around periods of high stress, such as exams. My parents thought that it was just "nerves," as did I, I suppose, and would try and calm my with comments like, "you'll be fine," and, "what's the worst that can happen?" While the "rational" side of my brain knew they were probably right, the side of my brain that was in control of my body at the time did not care. The episode I experienced during my first job was paralyzing. I would cry all day, every day, and experience panic attack after panic attack until I could not get out of bed. That was when my mum looked at me and said, "I think we should speak to a doctor about this." ...

Read the rest of the Q&A with Catherine Pringle.