This past week Clément Gascon, a judge sitting on the Supreme Court of Canada’s bench, admitted that he has been struggling with depression and anxiety disorder for the past 20 years. He is planning to retire in September,and that was the last day on which he was hearing a cause along with his colleagues.
Apparently Chief Justice Richard Wagner and the other judges sitting on the Supreme Court knew of the problem and supported his honor in his wish to inform Canadians about this state of affairs because he was allowed to have the last word about it.
However, this confession, if one may call it thus, seems to have unleashed all the preconceived ideas and stigma still prevalent among the population. In fact, Radio-Canada, the French-speaking branch of CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), aired a program this afternoon aiming to address those preconceived ideas and hopefully repudiate them.
During this program a representative of an organization supporting people with depression and anxiety disorders and a psychiatrist were present, as well as an anchor who was managing the phone calls from the public and asking questions to both guests that picked up on questions called in and asked some of her own.
One question that came in challenged the judge’s ability to do his job because of his illnesses. This challenge is based on the assumption that mental illnesses affect an individual’s intelligence and judgment in the performance of their job. I strongly suspect that many employers believe that to be the case because they won’t hire people who live with mental illnesses, but whereas someone’s judgment about their personal life might be impaired during a psychosis, once the symptoms are under control their judgment returns to its original capacity. (Of course, if that person’s judgment was dubious to begin with, then it won’t improve much). But for someone who was deemed qualified enough to be promoted to the Supreme Court of Canada before his troubles were known, the quality of his judgment has not decreased.
In conclusion, this event has shown that stigma and prejudice are hard to eradicate when it comes to mental illnesses, and that much work still needs to be done to put them to bed once and for all.