Alberta Liberal Party Leader David Swann is speaking out about his own past struggle with depression, calling for a reduction in the stigma around mental illness after a Calgary man with a troubled mind was shot in a confrontation with police.
The Calgary MLA had already released a statement Monday about David McQueen, who was killed Sunday after a standoff that started when police responded to shots fired at neighbouring homes and a bus. In it, Swann said McQueen had "reached out frequently" to his constituency office and says the man "was suffering from an obvious, and serious, mental illness."
On Tuesday, Swann went further, sharing his personal struggle in an interview with CBC Calgary's The Homestretch to help highlight how widespread mental illness is.
"Many of us, including myself, have gone through serious depressive illness. There are times when all of us struggle with life," said Swann, a medical doctor who recently co-chaired a provincial mental health review under government review.
- Calgary shooter killed by police was frustrated with government, health system, says caregiver
- Huntington Hills shooter known to police but not linked to gangs, chief says
Swann said family support, his church community and friends helped him through what he described as a "tremendously dark time" over the course of a year and a half.
"It's by the grace of God and people around me that I was able to do [that]."
He hopes coming forward doesn't increase fear, stigma or shame, but instead moves Albertans to be more vigilant in the face of mental illness.
"Mental illness is part of life, and physical illness is part of life. There should be no blame or judgment attached to it."
Swann surprised by Sunday's violence
Swann said his office had been contacted by McQueen over the past year, but that he was surprised by Sunday's outcome.
He said there were never signs of aggression or a willingness to hurt others.
"My condolences go to his family. They've had a very challenging number of years—very difficult time now," Swann said.
McQueen had been referred to the distress centre on a few occasions, he said.
Swann has suggested a thorough fatality inquiry.
More mental health services needed, Swann says
"There seems to be more stress and distress in our society," said Swann.
Access to mental health service are in need of serious attention, he said, adding that wait times to see a psychiatrist can be a year long and mishandled interventions in childhood can have grave consequences in adulthood.
Swann is also calling on Albertans to do their part.
"We're all connected. We all need to try to be there for each other and if there are ways we can identify risks ourselves as friends, family, community members, and be courageous in calling if you see signs of risk," said Swann.
He says only six per cent of Alberta's total health budget is spent on mental health.
"We need to do better."
The Alberta health minister is expected to offer recommendations based on the mental-health review that Swann co-chaired in early February.