The Mental Health Commission of Canada has a campaign to destigmatize mental illness, and I support this campaign. Stigma makes it hard for people with a mental illness to accept that they need help. That in turn can delay their seeking care.
Having said this, I wonder whether it makes sense to have anti-stigma as the primary message of a mental health strategy. It needs to be paired with a second message: Better Care.
Mental health centers often have long waiting lists in both Canada and the US. Some of this is because ministries or departments of health underfund mental health care, or because insurance do not cover mental health care as generously as non-mental health care. And that is due, in part, to stigma.
But it is also true that mental health care is often disorganized and inefficient. It's time to get out of denial: Resources are not going to increase. We must work out how to serve more patients with existing resources. Even worse, mental health providers have been slow to commit to implementing evidence-based practice and measured quality of care. Our patients should be doing better: and it's on us to make that happen.
There is a danger if the anti-stigma message becomes the principal message that the public hears. The danger is that when mental health providers say this, they are implicitly saying to the public that "the problem is YOU." I don't want us to say one word less against stigma. What I want is for us to balance that message with "the problem is US." We need to get our house in order and improve the quality of mental health care.