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Open Your Mind – A Closer Look at Mental Health

Did you know, at this moment over 200,000 Nova Scotians are living with mental illness? That’s one in five people.

Mental health problems affect people of all ages, gender, and culture. Afraid to be judged by family, friends or co-workers, countless Nova Scotians suffer in silence.

Family members of an individual with a mental illness are affected too. The problems, fears and behaviours of an ill loved one can have a profound impact on those close to them.

Doctors in Nova Scotia encourage the people in this province to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health. Mental health is an essential part of your overall health and when you are mentally healthy you can enjoy your life and environment, and the people in it.

Between the ages of 12 and 20 or 25, one in five young people will develop a mental disorder in that time period.

In Nova Scotia, health professionals have been working tireless to move mental health issues forward as a priority for the province. On May 16, 2012, the Department of Health and Wellness released Nova Scotia’s first ever government-wide strategy for mental health and addictions care called, Together We Can: The Plan to Improve Mental Health and Addictions Care for Nova Scotians.

The five-year plan outlines 33 actions to provide better care sooner for Nova Scotians living with mental illness and addictions and their families.

New mental health strategy
Many of the initiatives outlined in the strategy are focused on assisting families, communities and health care providers in order to provide the best support and care possible to people suffering from mental illness. The key priority areas outlined in the strategy are:

Doctors Nova Scotia is actively participating on the “Together We Can” Advisory Committee to provide input and advice around the work conducted by the project teams implementing the various strategic actions. Physicians are aware of and engaged in the strategy’s initiatives so that they are able to collaborate with other stakeholders and leaders throughout the implementation of the strategy.

What your doctors are doing to help
The stigma attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community. In order to eliminate stigma and discrimination, Nova Scotia doctors continue to publicly advocate and educate others about mental health. Drs. Howard Conter and Stan Kutcher are two great examples of physicians going above and beyond in effort to improve mental health outcomes in Nova Scotia.

Dr. Howard Conter, a family physician practicing in Halifax, sees first-hand the battle others have had with the stigma of mental illness. In his practice he witnesses the very real effect it has on Nova Scotians and works to address the issues and advance public understanding and awareness of the affects of mental illness.

Dr. Conter has been a long-time supporter and advocate of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. Not only is he a loyal donator and community advocate but he and his family are heavily involved in various fundraising activities managed by the Foundation. In February 2010, Dr. Conter and his son performed at “A Different Stage of Mind”, a variety show fundraiser aimed at raising awareness and money for the Foundation. Dr. Conter feels strongly that the stigma of mental illness needs to be addressed, and it was important for him to be a part of an event which shared that goal. Dr. Conter and his son raised over $90,000 during the event.  A few years later, the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia honoured Dr. Conter with the “Outstanding Volunteer” award for 2011-12.

Dr. Stan Kutcher, a staff psychiatrist at the IWK Health Centre, is an internationally-renowned expert in the area of adolescent mental health. Dr. Kutcher is the chair holder of, an informative website that provides expertise and advice in many areas of adolescent mental health. Not only is he a doctor, Dr. Kutcher is also an active speaker, reviewer and consultant in psychiatry working in various countries around the globe.

At Dalhousie University, Dr. Kutcher has been the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and has led the development of the Life Sciences Development Association, the Brain Repair Centre, and the International Health Office. He is also the Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Mental Health at Dalhousie. He is the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health for the IWK Health Centre and Dalhousie University.

Dr. Kutcher was a founding member of the Canadian Association for Mood and Anxiety Treatment and has just completed the development of “Evergreen” – a national child and youth mental framework for Canada.

Most recently, Dr. Stan Kutcher has partnered with government to provide his Go-To training program for educators to learn how to recognize mental health problems and connect students with the supports they need. This way, educators will be better able to identify the cues and what to look for in youth dealing with mental illness. The goal is to have five trainers in each school board, with about two Go-To educators in every school.

How do you think we can improve mental health care for Nova Scotians?