Funding mental health

By Jenn Watt

Published March 20 2018

Most of us can probably sense the conversation around mental health has shifted over the last decade. Topics that were once taboo about bipolar disorder panic attacks or depression have become mainstream. Bell Let’s Talk Day is an overwhelming success raising millions and helping change attitudes across Canada with its social media campaign.

I still remember watching the 2012 video of Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes talking about her struggle with depression. Her bravery and vulnerability undoubtedly changed many minds about what mood disorders look like.

Statistics support this idea. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reports that in a 2015 survey 81 per cent of respondents said they were more aware of mental health issues than they were five years ago and 70 per cent thought attitudes around mental health had changed for the better in the previous five years.

Culturally we’re moving in the right direction.

When it comes to health funding not so much.

Earlier this month the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) launched a campaign called Erase the Difference which highlights how far behind Ontario has fallen in funding mental health.

“Local branches of the [CMHA] have received little in the way of government funding increases for many years. We receive less of Ontario’s health budget now than we did in 1979” their website states.

In 1979 mental health and addictions received more than 11 per cent of the province’s health budget. Today it’s 6.5 per cent.

And in case you’re wondering mental illness makes up “about 10 per cent of the burden of disease in Ontario” CAMH says.

On a local level a network of service providers offer mental health support. Haliburton Highlands Health Services runs mental health services which provides intervention counsellors and arranges psychiatrist appointments among other programs and services.

And there is real dedication to finding solutions and turning partnerships into creative new initiatives such as the youth hub being planned by Point in Time and HHHS.

However things could be improved with more funding.

Asked what she would prioritize should a pile of cash materialize in the mental health budget Stephanie MacLaren VP of community services at HHHS pointed to crisis response improvements and local safe beds for those in crisis.

There’s also the matter of affordable housing proximity of specialized services and transportation (or lack thereof) all of which can affect mental health directly (access to treatment) or indirectly (increasing isolation strained finances for example).

Just months away from a provincial election it seems the time is right for change in the health-care system.

With the federal government funding several mental health initiatives and with all main parties vocally supportive of mental health we just might have reason to be optimistic.

But as with everything nothing changes without action.

If we’re serious about treating mental illness the same way we do physical illness we should fund it the same way too.