Sitting Down With Barkley
Sometimes, you forget from where an organization comes, how its roots were planted in the first place.
You see a non-profit like Turning Leaf that has all these compassionate individuals laying it all on the line for so many disenfranchised people, and it’s easy to overlook that it wasn’t always like this. Success is not immediate; it’s something for which you continually strive.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Barkley Engel, Founder and CEO of Turning Leaf, who took the organization from its humble beginnings to an organization that has helped so many people with mental illness and intellectual challenge. Of course, I took the opportunity to ask Barkley a few quick questions about the future of mental health care.
Why do you think there is such disparity between health care and mental health care?
“I believe there is a disparity between health care and mental health care because of two things: lack of awareness and stigma. Though mental health has never been so much a part of our community discourse, many people remain uninformed as to what basic mental health is and the fact that they have it. Everyone has mental health as they do physical health. We — as a community — still don’t see it that way.
“Stigma remains high in many parts of our community, as people don’t understand mental health; they understand (and appreciate) even less the idea of mental illness. When we hear about someone struggling with cancer, diabetes or a heart condition, we sympathize, create allowances for them and their illness and wish them the best. When we hear about someone with Schizophrenia, often the immediate response is fear, avoidance, and promotion of incarceration, hospitalization or isolation.”
What will it take for Canadians (or Winnipeggers) to be truly mentally well?
“Canadians will need to think about it differently. They need to regard mental health — as they often do physical health — as on a continuum. We can feel well or healthy one day and ill the next. Canadians will also need to normalize the idea of illness. Being ill is part of health. Avoidance of mental illness is as realistic as avoiding a cold or diabetes. It happens and it can be treated.”
If you could tell or ask something of your MP or government representative, what would it be?
“Mental-health-related funding is not a luxury. If we continue to de-prioritize it, occurrences like the suicide epidemic with youth on some First Nation Reserves will continue, children in schools will continue to suffer quietly and those who have suffered trauma may continue to be a risk to themselves (if untreated). There are real costs, both financial and in terms of human life, to de-prioritizing mental health funding.”