IMAGE: Genevieve Pizzale
Canada’s definitely stepping up and doing better when it comes to providing resources for those of us who suffer from mental health issues, but there’s more on the horizon and room for improvement.
When it comes to the more than 6.7 million Canadians living with a mental health illness or problem, there’s better news today than there was decades ago: the stigma is slowly being squashed and attitudes are changing, workplace mental health programs are on the rise; and all levels of government are devoting money and resources to a variety of projects. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government would commit to $5 billion over the next decade to support mental health initiatives (including “improving access to evidence-based interventions and mental health services and care for people across the country,” he said).
Yes, this investment is a significant step in the right direction, says Fardous Hosseiny, the national director of research and public policy at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), but there’s a huge need for more money, more research and more attention. About seven per cent of the country’s healthcare spending currently goes toward mental health—half of what other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, such as the UK and Australia, devote to mental illnesses. “Canada has seen years of chronic underspending and underfunding. What we need now is to get people help sooner—before they’re in crisis,” he says.
WHAT WE NEED NOW
CMHA’s proposed Mental Health Parity Act tackles the need for mental health to be treated and valued equally to physical. “Five in five Canadians have mental health,” says Hosseiny. “Mental health needs to be valued as much as any physical illness or condition.” The act focuses on implementing these five key strategies that can really benefit patients:
The need to publicly fund evidence-based therapies. Treatments for mental health disorders don’t come cheap—in fact, Canadians who aren’t lucky enough to have private insurance plans or provincial pharmacare must pay for medication and appointments with professionals out of pocket. (And even when you do have employee benefits, they generally aren’t much. Say your psychologist charges $200 per visit and you have $1,000 in coverage benefits plan. After five sessions—which may only scratch the surface when it comes to amount of help you need—you’re on the hook for the rest of your therapy.) Universal access to therapy and medication—and in a timely manner—says Hosseiny, requires significantly more than the dollars that are currently earmarked for mental health. Additional funds would also play a huge part in getting more psychologists, counsellors, social workers, etc., available to Canadians.
The need to improve the quality of care. “This is all about integrating services,” Hosseiny says, adding coordination and collaboration—family doctors talking with social workers, for example—are needed to help Canadians get the therapy and/or medication they most need.
The need to invest in promotion, prevention and early intervention. The truth is, most of us don’t care about mental health until we find ourselves (or someone we care about) faced with anxiety, depression or other illnesses. The idea is that promotion of these issues—making people care about mental wellbeing the same way we’re taught to care about physical wellbeing—can address mental health issues before onset and promote early intervention.
The need to address stigma and discrimination. “People are still reluctant to come out and say they’re not OK—that they need mental health help,” says Hosseiny. There are lots of bits and pieces that contribute to stigmatization, but underfunding is a big one.
The need for research. The biggest contributor to mental health research in Canada is the Canadian Institute for Health Research, and it spends about 4.3 percent of its annual research budget on mental illnesses. Depression, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder don’t get the same attention or donations that some illnesses (think cancer and heart disease) receive. “The imbalance in research funding of mental health vis-à-vis physical health, should also be addressed,” says the CMHA. “Canada needs sustained research investment in mental health to spur innovation, better translate scientific knowledge into practice and develop therapies that are appropriate, effective and that promote treatment acceptance for people with mental illnesses.”