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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

What Can ORNGE Teach Us About Proactive Mental Health?

Well, now this is interesting. 

Nationally, there is a call for an expanded, integrated mental health strategy.  By its very nature, this calls for a national general health strategy.  Study after study proves that the socio-economic impact of mental illness is huge – and therefore is contributing to our debt crisis, our training deficit and all other sorts of social woes.  Now, here's further proof of that - a fellow who is on suicide watch appears to have behaved in a socially irresponsible manner without thought as to consequences.  The financial consequences and public trust impacts of ORNGE are enormous - and rightly so, Premier McGuinty is worried about what else might be going on out there

It must be asked, as we look at proactive mental health, at improved training and opportunity and a focus on accountability - would a more proactive approach to mental health have prevented the challenges at ORNGE?  Could they have prevented "personality" problems that led to e-Health, or Walkerton, or the death of Dudley George?

There's plenty of evidence to suggest the answer is yes; given the right, proactive accommodations and conscious thought as to consequences, we could have planned better in each one of these cases.  Social-Emotional learning, EQ development, etc. can help foster consciously pro-social development.  But do we believe that, seriously?  Are we ready to accept that difficult personalities (and charming personalities) are reflective of neurochemistry and environmental factors?  Can we get past the “suck it up” and “get over yourself” mentality still prevalent and really invest in understanding who we are and how we exist as a societal system?

My guess is no.  Or at least, not yet.  Most (I say again – most) backroom political operators I know see mental health as a policy widget, period.  They fundamentally don’t believe in “move forward together” – they practice “every man for himself.”  A bit over a year ago, I had a chat with a guy in the know about what the next steps should be on mental health; the reply came back “we already allocated funds” as though that meant the right demographic had been assuaged, so it was on to the next thing.

Problem is, that kind of survival-of-the-fittest mindset is the exact same thought process that landed the system with Chris Mazza.  Mazza, by every account I’ve read of him, is a big-thinker, fast-talker, charming to the nines.  He’s the kind of person you just feel is somehow ahead of the curve – his very demeanour inspires confidence.

What if that demeanour, that behavioural pattern, is the exact same starting point for the mess that ORNGE got itself into?  What if Mazza has, like so many people in politics and business, an undiagnosed “mental health” condition that, because it caused him to excel, people were willing to overlook until the cracks started to show?

Political operatives can tell you countless tales about seeking the perfect candidate and apparently finding them, only to run into a whack of “personality-challenges” down the road.  You could sit in any Legislature in Canada and probably assess rather quickly a number of people who could be slapped with a diagnosis (and some already have one).  The problem is, these manic, delusional, obsessive people – when harnessed the right way – are the ones who move the ball forward.  They are our innovators, our social outliers, the people who think around corners and inspire other to follow.

Conversely, the ones who are quieter, less confident, or seek greater direction are seen as “dead wood” – without consideration ever being paid to the environmental factors of work.  Again, it’s subconscious “survival of the fittest” at play, meaning it’s the most aggressive and competitive, not necessarily the most talented, who rise to the top – until they over step themselves.  Our approach to proactive occupational mental fitness is feeding into our broader health and economic crisis.   It’s like we’re wringing our hands over the complexity and cost of treating lead poisoning without looking upstream for a leaky pipe.

We should watch what happens in the case of Dr. Chris Mazza closely.  How much his case will incite some introspection on the part of policy makers and institutional leaders will be most telling of how quickly we can start embracing the changes our society needs to keep growing forward.

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