A recent Ottawa Citizen "Ask the Religion Experts" question was, "what are society's obligations to the mentally disabled?"
WSO's Balpreet Singh's answer from a Sikh perspective is below. For the replies from the other experts, please see here.
Society’s obligations towards the mentally disabled begin by acknowledging that mental disability exists and it is not at all uncommon. Only through awareness can we can work to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and offer the necessary assistance to those who need it.
It has been reported that approximately 20 per cent of individuals in Canada will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, and the rest will be affected by mental illness in family members, friends or colleagues. But despite these figures, it is an unfortunate reality that persons with a mental disability are often marginalized and have faced ridicule and exclusion in society.
Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, it is an issue that has remained in the shadows and those who suffer from mental illness often do not receive the assistance they need.
Many who need help simply don’t feel comfortable asking for it and suffer in silence.
Discrimination on the grounds of mental disability is prohibited by the Canadian Charter of Rights and provincial human rights codes. Society is obliged to accommodate mental illness and to ensure that those who are dealing with this issue are provided equal opportunities.
We have in recent years made significant progress in accommodating physical disability, but the same cannot be said with respect to mental disability. This is, first, because of the stigma associated with the issue, but also because the accommodations for mental disability aren’t always as easy to identify or provide. It is possible that a single case of mental disability may require various different accommodation measures as an individual’s circumstances change.
In the Sikh community, there have been ongoing efforts at addressing mental illness and eliminating the stigma around it. Workshops and seminars have taken place in partnership with Sikh organizations to create awareness, foster acceptance and provide culturally appropriate support and resources so that those affected by mental illness can receive the support they need.