Mental health association asks province to ‘erase the difference’

By Jenn Watt

Published March 20 2018

A new initiative by the Canadian Mental Health Association called Erase the Difference is asking Ontarians to sign an online petition to increase funding for mental health care.

According to CMHA for nearly 40 years the portion of the health budget directed to mental health has been steadily dropping going from 11.3 per cent in 1979 to 6.5 per cent today.

Mental health received $3.5 billion of a $54 billion budget.

The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge office of CMHA put out a press release in early March celebrating funding from the federal government for mental health and asking the provincial candidates to make commitments to bring funding up to what they deemed necessary levels.

“The financial burden of mental illness is 1.5 times that of all cancers combined and seven times the burden of all infectious disease and yet in Ontario only 6.5 per cent of the $54-billion health budget is allocated for mental health and addictions” Mark Graham CEO of the local CMHA office said in the release. “We need to continue our work to erase the difference between funding for mental health and physical health in order to better address the needs of our communities our province and our country.”

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health “people with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die prematurely than the general population. Mental illness can cut 10 to 20 years from a person’s life expectancy.”

Haliburton Highlands Health Services is responsible for a portion of services available in the region with Mental Health Services offering counselling case management psychiatric consultation and other programs and services.

Stephanie MacLaren VP of community services at HHHS said she agrees with the campaign’s message of increasing mental health funding.

“I support the direction of the CMHA campaign in that mental health as a sector has traditionally seen less investment from provincial funding sources than one would expect given its prevalence” she said via email. “While I think awareness has certainly increased in terms of the significance and impact of mental health conditions at both the individual and system level funding has not necessarily increased proportionately.”

She said that wait times for intake and assessment were kept within two weeks through HHHS “due to a commitment to appropriate triage.”

“Like many mental health service providers HHHS struggles to procure psychiatrist support. This is due to the demand across the system that outweighs supply. We have arrangements with multiple psychiatrists who provide services both in our Minden clinic as well as via the Ontario Telemedicine Network” MacLaren said.

Lack of housing and small population were two other challenges identified in providing service in the region.

Asked what she would prioritize if the provincial government made a decision to invest heavily in mental health she said the focus would be on crisis response.

“The ability to embed mental health service providers and partner more fulsomely with other health service providers (primary care OPP and emergency departments for example) to ensure that we are able to maintain and support people in the community to the best of our ability. We are very grateful for our partnership and tremendously productive working relationship with Four County Crisis but the value of having a live person able to respond to crisis after hours as opposed to telephone cannot be underestimated. If I were to really stretch my sense of the possible it would be good to be able to have local safe beds available to community members in crisis.”

CMHA is asking those who agree with them that mental health funding should be increased to visit and sign the petition.