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We need to talk about mental health

Posted May 31st, 2024

This is an opinion column by Dr. Victor Uwaifo, Chief of Mental Health and Addictions for Niagara Health, published in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

Two people hold hands in a supportive gesture

In Niagara, we are seeing a significant rise in mental health patients accessing our Emergency Departments. Over the past decade, there has been a notable 33 per cent increase in individuals seeking mental health care. Niagara Health currently manages the highest mental health and addictions patient volume among all large community hospitals in Ontario, serving approximately 9,000 patients annually.

Recent data reveals that nearly one in five adults will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. By the age of 40, almost half of the population will have encountered a mental health challenge. This trend is alarming, as mental illness is not only a leading cause of disability in Canada but also shortens life expectancy by 10-20 years. The disease burden in Ontario alone surpasses that of all cancers combined and is more than seven times higher than all infectious diseases. 

This troubling reality underscores the importance of mental health at any age. It is a call to action for all of us to prioritize mental wellness and support those in need. Remember, you are not alone. There is help available, and with the right care, anyone affected by mental illness can thrive, achieve well-being, and lead meaningful lives. Taking care of your mental health is not just about self-care; it's about being able to support your family and friends as well.

We at Niagara Health are committed to improving access to mental health services. Our team of hard-working nurses, social workers, physicians and other allied staff work tirelessly to ensure everyone receives the help they need. When we see you, we hear and support you. We know everyone has a different story. Treatment is individualized and patient centred. We offer a range of programs and support services, including crisis intervention, peer support and specialized care for diverse populations. 

Despite challenges like overcrowding and shortages of mental health professionals, we are implementing innovative solutions. From reorganizing psychiatric emergency response programs to expanding community outreach, we are committed to providing timely and efficient care to all patients. 

We need to talk about mental health, it saves lives. Suicide is a serious concern, with more than 4,500 Canadians affected each year. Every day there are more than 200 suicide attempts in Canada, at least one every three minutes. These statistics are troubling and highlight the need for more open discussion about mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out for help immediately. Contact local distress centres or help lines. Remember, there is always support available, and no one should face mental health challenges alone. 

One of the biggest barriers to seeking help for mental illness is stigma. People often fear judgment from others and may internalize their struggles. A survey revealed that 75 per cent of working Canadians would hesitate or refuse to disclose a mental illness to their employer or co-worker, highlighting the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues. It's crucial to normalize conversations about mental illness and treat it with the same seriousness as physical ailments. 

We must debunk myths and misconceptions about mental illness. Just as we wouldn't tell someone with cancer to "snap out of it," we shouldn't dismiss mental health challenges as imaginary or insignificant. Mental illness can be as debilitating as physical illness, but recovery is possible with the right support. 

Strategies for Mental Wellness 

Here are some ways to take care of your mental health: 

Nutrition: Maintain a balanced diet and stay hydrated. Be mindful of your caffeine and alcohol intake. 

Sleep: Aim for about eight hours of sleep each night. Creating a relaxing bedtime routine can help you unwind before you go to sleep. 

Exercise: Engage in physical activity, such as walking, for at least 30 minutes daily. 

Relaxation: Practise meditation, breathing exercises and find activities that help you unwind. 

Stay Connected: Personal relationships built on trust are important. Talking and being listened to can help you manage stress and emotions. 

Other Tips: Manage expectations, set boundaries and prioritize yourself. 


If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there is help available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 

  • Distress Centre Niagara - 905-688-3711
  • Call or text the Suicide Crisis Helpline - 988 
  • Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) 1-866-550-5205 
  • Pathstone Crisis Support Line for children and youth up to 18 years old - 1-800-263-4944 
  • For immediate risk of harm to yourself or others call 9-1-1 

Niagara Health System