It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week!
- Have you had trouble finding mental health care that you can afford?
- Have you found it hard to find a therapist who is a good fit?
- Have you had health care providers brush off concerns about your mental health?
If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you’re not alone. People with intellectual disabilities and their families face barriers to accessing mental health care all across Canada. This is a systemic problem.
- People with intellectual disabilities are more often unemployed and living in poverty. This makes the cost of mental health care an even greater barrier.
- Therapists don’t get enough training on how to effectively treat and support people with intellectual disabilities. This makes it even harder for people with intellectual disabilities to find a therapist who is a good fit.
- People with intellectual disabilities experience ableism which is a form of discrimination. Ableist bias can lead people to not take the mental health concerns of people with intellectual disabilities seriously or to believe that nothing can be done.
At Inclusion Canada, we’re working to improve access to mental health care for people with intellectual disabilities’.
One of our main concerns right now is Canada’s plan to legalize medical assistance in dying (MAiD) for people who have a mental illness in 2023. Next year, some people who have a mental illness will be able to have their doctor euthanize them.
A government appointed committee called the “Expert Panel on MAiD and Mental Illness” made recommendations for how Canada should proceed. These recommendations put people with intellectual disabilities at risk.
- The Expert Panel recommends that Canada provide medical assistance in dying to people who are “in situations of involuntariness” like a jail or an institution.
Right now, people with a mental illness can have their right to decide taken away in Canada. This means that while they’re really sick, people with a mental illness can be told that they can’t refuse to take medicine or to leave the hospital, for example. But the Expert Panel on MAiD and mental illness thinks that even when people have had all their other choices taken away, we should make sure that they can still choose to die. This is dangerous..
- The Expert Panel recommends that Canada provide medical assistance in dying through a supported decision maker.
Overall, supported decision making is great! But when it comes to big decisions, like whether or not to die, supported decision making isn’t always appropriate. For example, there is a big difference between when supported decision making helps a person make their own independent choices, and when supported decision making gives other people the authority to decide your preferences. The Expert Panel doesn’t put any limits on their recommendation. This is dangerous.
These recommendations are dangerous when applied to people with a mental illness. But the Expert Panel goes even further; they imply that when a person with an intellectual disability (whether or not they have a mental illness) asks to die by MAiD, these same recommendations should apply.
We worry that this would mean that a person with an intellectual disability who is institutionalized and doesn’t have control over their day to day decisions could instead choose to die by MAiD. And we worry that this would mean that a person with an intellectual disability could die by MAiD because a supportive decision maker believes rightly or wrongly that that’s what they want.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s make sure that mental health care is inclusive and safe. The first step: Canada needs to reject the recommendations of the Expert Panel on MAiD and Mental Illness and repeal the “sunset clause” that will automatically legalize MAiD on the basis of mental illness in March of 2023.