David Goldbloom, the senior medical adviser at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, spoke to the Globe’s André Picard about his new role as chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Why would a busy psychiatrist like you take on this challenge?
It’s a great opportunity to reach beyond my immediate patients, families and institutions and try to change the landscape a little for all those who will face mental health challenges in the future.
Can the commission change the landscape?
We’re a really small group and we don’t control the resources, the money. Our role is to be a catalyst, a collaborator and an influencer. So we have to place a lot of stock in relationships. Our role is mobilizing citizens, community groups, business, institutions and government. But, yes, we can have an impact. I’m just the chair; the real strength of the commission is the advisory committees – that’s our intellectual capital. We have 100 people with a range of views and bringing the experience of patients and families to the table to have an impact on policies.
The MHCC is five years old. Has it made a difference?
A lot has changed in five years but it’s hard to hog too much credit for the commission. We’re riding the crest of a wave of growing public interest in mental health – in government, in business and the media. But I’ll give you one concrete example – At Home/Chez Soi. That’s a $110-million investment in action research to figure out how we can best meet the needs of people who are homeless and mentally ill. It’s already having an impact and the findings will be important.
Canada is the only G8 country without a mental health strategy. But the commission is going to unveil one in the near future. What can we expect?
I know there’s some concerns that we’re being a bit too secretive but bear with us. I don’t want to give away the store when it comes to content but I hope people will be pleased with the results of our extensive consultations. I’m aware of the concerns and criticisms of the draft strategy but it was a draft; there have been extensive revisions throughout the process. When the framework for the strategy was released in 2009, it was the view from 60,000 feet. The strategy itself will be a lot closer to the runway but it’s not the tires on the runway. As I said, we don’t control the resources, so we can only provide guidance, not make policy.
It’s been a whirlwind five years: the mental health strategy, the At Home/Chez Soi research project, the anti-stigma campaign. These are high profile initiatives from the commission. What are you going to do to top those, to leave your mark?
There’s only one Michael Kirby and he’s left some awfully big shoes to fill. So I’ve given a lot of thought to what the next big project should. What I want to ensure people is that I’m not planning a slow dimmer switch on activities. We’re going to keep at it because mental health is a really important issue. We need to find ways to capture the public imagination.
The commission has a good public profile and the ear of government. How will you maintain those for another 5-10 years?
It’s going to be difficult in this climate of fiscal restraint. In Canada, our solution to problems has always been to throw more money at them. We can’t count on that any more. We have to be more creative, more innovative.