EDITORIAL: Mental illness brought into light

Victoria's Vital Signs 2013 report shows people are thinking more about this ongoing issue

Given our region is slowly, but surely pulling itself out of the economic doldrums, we’re not surprised that the high cost of living remains atop the list of residents’ concerns in the 2013 Victoria Vital Signs report.

What raises our eyebrows, however, is that mental illness jumped from 10th to second in survey respondents’ rankings of what they feel are the most important issues facing Greater Victoria.

Interestingly, the Victoria Foundation’s annual community report card showed that people are, for the most part, leading happy lives, feel supported by friends and family and feel connected to their community.

For people battling mental illness in our communities, those feelings can be largely absent and the world can seem a very dark place, indeed.

In light of the recent B.C. Coroner’s Report which stated that more needs to be done to prevent teen suicide, we are heartened by the survey results. They indicate an increasing recognition of the realities of mental illness. Acknowledgement of any problem is the first step in creating more opportunities for understanding and compassion.

Mental illness covers a broad range of conditions, from mild depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. While members of the region’s street communities may offer the most visible examples of more extreme cases, virtually everyone knows someone who has faced mental health problems to some degree, or has struggled with it themselves.

And more frequently, high-profile individuals are taking their stories public of battles with mental illness, as a way of shedding light on what has been a dark secret for many of them.

The costs to society of mental illness are great when considering the policing and court costs, health care and lost productivity. But the impacts on personal potential and family relationships are equally important to consider when trying to build a healthier society.

While the Vital Signs report offers an indication of people’s thinking on a number of quality-of-life issues, we hope this year’s edition helps bring mental illness further into the light.