A mental health advocate in Thunder Bay says the regional hospital needs to pay as much attention to fighting depression as it does to finding tumours. 

His comments follow the release of a report showing mental illness has a greater impact on the health of people in Ontario than cancer.

Scott Chisholm said little has changed in the way the depression that led to his father's death would be treated today. His father committed suicide 30 years ago, when Chisholm was a teenager.

"Look at what's different today, I don't see a lot," he said.

"That's the part that gets me when I look at how far cancer has advanced in the last 30 years since we began to talk about it."

Chisholm said after he saw the report launched Wednesday — written by the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario — he looked to see what Thunder Bay's hospital is doing. He said he was disappointed to see cancer treatment given more prestige in the hospital's annual report.


Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences president Andrée Robichaud. (CBC)

Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre president Andrée Robichaud said it’s difficult to compare the hospital's approach to cancer and its approach to mental illness. She said the hospital has the entire mandate for acute cancer care, while the treatment of mental illness is shared with various other agencies.

"You may suffer mental health issues and never come into Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre," she said.

Mental illness and addictions are one of the hospital's four strategic directions, Robichaud added.

But Chisholm — who is the founder of Collateral Damage, a non-profit initiative to get rid of the stigma that surrounds suicide — said the language used in the hospital's annual report perpetuates stereotypes about mental illness.

"It's clear that we can prevent cancer and there's something we can do about it and the language on mental health is that 'oh, there's not much we can do about it'," he said.

Chisholm said he would like to see the treatment of mental illness co-ordinated in the same way that cancer is, through an organization similar to Cancer Care Ontario. Robichaud said that's a reasonable idea.