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March 7, 2016

The most important things about the Alberta government's mental health review are that it was done and that Health Minister Sarah Hoffman has said that implementing the report's 32 wide-ranging recommendations will be a government priority. Over the years, mental health services have become the poor child of the province's health care system. That reality, as the report pointed out, has major human and financial costs.

One "cost" is that more than 500 Albertans a year die from suicide. Other costs are that people with mental health issues find the current system difficult to negotiate and, if they have housing problems, they have a higher risk of running afoul of the criminal justice system. Mental illness can reduce a person's life expectancy by up to 20 years.

Mental health funding has been cut due to a narrow focus on the fiscal bottom line, ignoring the fact that saving money on treating the mentally ill creates other costs for the taxpayer.

Still, our main concern is that the mentally ill are our brothers and sisters, often literally so, and that their proper care enhances the common good of society.

We agree whole-heartedly with the mental health report's emphasis on suicide prevention, but also point out that it is a contradiction for the government to run suicide prevention programs while at the same time assisting the suicides of those who ask for a physician's help.

Those who will seek assisted suicide will be, in many cases, those who suffer from depression and other forms of mental illness. Governments ought to be consistent with society's traditional expectation that when someone is suicidal, we do everything in our power to prevent them from fulfilling that desire. Suicide does not suddenly become good because someone is helping you to carry out your wish.