Oct 10th, is World Mental Health Day. The World Health Organization’s slogan for the day is “Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality.” We couldn’t agree more.

In fact, access to healthcare is a priority area in Inclusion Canada’s 2021-2024 strategic plan. Why? People with intellectual disabilities and their families are experiencing significant barriers to wellness (including mental wellness) from coast to coast to coast.

It should go without saying that people with intellectual disabilities can be supported, just like everybody else, to boost mental health and get the most out of life.

What’s getting in the way? Here’s a couple of examples of barriers that have been identified by the New Brunswick Association for Community Living:

Many therapists don’t feel that they have the right training to support people with intellectual disabilities.

Diagnostic overshadowing means that people might brush off signs of mental illness thinking “of course this person is suffering, they have a disability.”

These barriers layer onto the barriers we all experience. The healthcare system can be hard to navigate and waitlists abound. Mental health care can also be unaffordable, particularly for people living in poverty.

Laws and policies can also miss the mark and prevent equal access to mental health care. For example, this year, Canada made really problematic changes to assisted dying laws that single out people with disabilities. Some people are now hesitant to be fully transparent with their healthcare providers when they’re struggling.

Another devastating example of policies gone wrong: Beth MacLean, Sheila Livingstone, and Joseph Delaney were admitted to hospital in Nova Scotia for crisis care. Because they were hospitalized for more than a month, they lost their housing placements. Even after they got better, the three were needlessly kept in a locked psychiatric ward for years, decades, on housing waitlists. Just this week, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal found systemic discrimination, and the Premier of Nova Scotia committed to take action.

We have a lot of work to do to make sure the healthcare system is a safe and inclusive place for people with intellectual disabilities. Mental health care for all: let’s make it a reality. One step at a time. Together.