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Christopher Peloso, right, is shown with his husband, George Smitherman, in 2007. Mr. Peloso was found dead in Toronto on Dec. 30, 2013. (RYAN CARTER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Christopher Peloso, right, is shown with his husband, George Smitherman, in 2007. Mr. Peloso was found dead in Toronto on Dec. 30, 2013. (RYAN CARTER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Tim Powers

The tragic death of Chris Peloso shows we must treat depression like we can see it Add to ...

The tragic death of Chris Peloso, husband of former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman, has broken the hearts of many, not the least of which include his immediate family and large circle of friends.

I met Mr. Peloso on one occasion when he and Mr. Smitherman were guests of a business associate of mine at a music awards show. In our brief time together Mr. Peloso was affable, warm and politely inquisitive. As is often the case with depression, there were no outward signs that he battled the “Black Dog,” a term Sir Winston Churchill used to describe the illness, that afflicts so many of us, me included.

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As Bob Rae has commendably written in this space, and my friend Rick Hillier has argued in relation to a spate of recent suicides by our beloved military personnel, more needs to be done to help those suffering from various forms of mental illness. The pain from these ailments may not be visible to others as crutches, casts and bandages are the symbols of wounds we understand and accept more readily, but it is very real as is its carnage. In the case of Chris Peloso a husband has lost his partner and three children a parent. They will carry that loss with them forever.

Whether, as Mr. Rae has argued, a National Suicide Prevention Strategy is a way forward, or as General Hillier has suggested a board of inquiry or a royal commission to examine mental health services in the military is an option, we must continue pushing forward to do something. Reacting to the news headlines and encouraging the “end the stigma” conversation helps but it is not enough.

You know the statistics – 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetimes. Men in their 40s and early 50s are more susceptible to suicide than any other cohort. Frankly from a societal and a personal perspective this is frightening.

Governments have done better in recent years in raising awareness about mental health challenges we Canadians face. The Mental Health Commission of Canada created by the federal government and numerous provincial anti-bullying campaigns demonstrate some useful commitment to sicknesses we can’t see.

Corporations like Bell Canada have shown social responsibility through their “Let’s talk” campaign, which focuses on having an open discussion about mental health. All this is good.

However, more tangible policy options, particularly in our healthcare system, could come if we treat mental health care like visible and understood diseases. Things like: funding for an adequate number of trained professionals; shortening the wait times for treatment; working with the private sector to fund and develop different treatment facilities; or work with the insurance industry to develop health care plans that are affordable and have realistic mental-health treatment options.

We shouldn’t need to have more high-profile tragedies to take more aggressive actions to deal with the legitimate threat of mental illness to our society. As Churchill himself said, “Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself belief.”

Conservative strategist Tim Powers is a vice-president at Summa Strategies.

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