Monday, 14 May 2012

Mental health strategies and policy development

After hearing about the release of a national-wide mental health strategy I must say I was kind of disappointed by the lack of commitment (real and fiscal) by the conservative party of Canada. But in more general terms, these types of affairs (strategies for this and that and the other thing) tend to lack solid scientific and philosophical basis that would generate actionable and measurable outcomes in a more natural and intuitive way.

And no wonder: panel members are chosen because they're highly respected by society and are on the main well-meaning individuals (I, for one, am very grateful for their efforts). But they seem to work under very tight deadlines and are often under-resourced and -supported (no dedicated technical/research staff, for eg) enough to not be equal to the task. I'm not saying anything against these people whoever they are.

As a policy analyst for many years I'm intimately familiar with the technical, political and capacity issues and factors these thoughtful individuals have to deal with in the course of their work. Much of my work dealt with education and language rights. In much of my work I tried to educate myself (as much as I could) on the technical, biological and social aspects of education and language instruction.

I've been away too long, but one of the great resources I came across was the Isuma Journal for policy development. There were a series of academic papers published there on longitudinal studies on children who grew up in relative poverty in terms of academic success and in relation to participation rates in the social welfare and criminal justice systems as adults. But the thing I went away with was the absolute importance of uninterrupted neuro-biological development of these children and their resultant life prospects.

I recently read a piece in Scientific American (April 2012) talking about how stress affects the brian which got me looking back on my largely-unsuccessful advocacy work and about the chances of success for the national-wide mental health strategy (disregarding for the moment the ideological hurdles inherent with Harper's government).

The thesis of the paper, This is your brian in meltdown (p. 48), talks about how the prefrontal cortical areas of the human brian which act as the brain's executive command center that holds emotional impulsivity in check are effectively shut down by stress allowing the amygdala (locus of emotional activity regulation) to take over (inducing reflexive and fight-or-flight responses).

The highly convoluted paragraph above (excuse please) is actually describing what a great majority of Inuit (and aboriginal groups and those who live in poverty) live through everyday of their lives. Impulse control problems destroys lives because the system is not designed to deal with these moments of breakdown as mental health/food security/addictions issues but as purely criminal behaviour resulting in purely punitive measures.

Imagine how this affects youth and families at risk: something non-judgemental and compassionate could have prevented a life of crime and social maladjustment is an opportunity lost. The ramifications and ripple effects are extremely far-reaching. So the question of whether mental health per se is a clinical issue or a criminal justice issue (something interventional) is not enough; the deeper social wellness/societal values aspects of mental health need to be examined and considered more seriously.

In IQ, social peace and peacable relations are extremely important; these are affected through calls for reconciliation and peace-making. These societal values need to be re-introduced along the lines of critical mass-media awareness because most of our children are reared on a steady diet of glorification of violence and social dysfunction they see and hear everyday in the mass media. Schools have a role, police have a role, parent support programs as well. The question is how to do it in the most intelligent and forward-looking way as possible.


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