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Investing in mental health is a sound strategy

March 27, 2019
By: 
Michelle Hurtubise
Executive Director
Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health

The 2019 Federal Budget builds on the historic investment in mental health spending announced in 2017 and aims to support key foundational mental health strategies with the potential to improve the overall health and well-being of Canadians living with mental illness and addictions. The Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health (the Centre) supports these directions to ensure that high-quality services and supports are available across our country. Specifically, investments in suicide prevention, harm reduction strategies and the foundations of a national pharmacare strategy are stepping stones to the kind of comprehensive mental health care that is required from coast to coast.

One of the key commitments to advance access to mental services across Canada is the investment to support a pan-Canadian suicide prevention service. The realization of access to a bilingual, 24/7, multimodal (voice, text or chat) crisis line with trained responders has the potential to better support individuals at risk of dying by suicide by providing easy, immediate access to crisis services. Implementation of this service closes a critical gap in mental health supports in our country.

Access to a 24/7 crisis line is one part of the solution to address the sharp rise in thoughts of suicide and suicide-related behaviours. The solutions required to transform health and well-being for all Canadians lie in upstream investment, especially for our Indigenous communities (where suicide rates are 5 to 25 times higher) and other at-risk populations. The continued commitment of previously announced funding for First Nations and Inuit mental health is therefore an important part of the overall strategy. The Centre is committed to working with our partners in Ontario and across the country to realize the government’s vision of reducing death by suicide.

The link between mental health and substance use issues is complex and not fully understood, but the connection between them is clear nonetheless. Death by drug overdose has increased in Canada, becoming the third leading cause of accidental death. A significant proportion of those deaths were related to opioid overdose. We applaud the government’s efforts to address the real risk of drug overdose by securing additional funding for targeted measures to close persistent gaps in harm reduction and treatment for opioid use. Reducing legislative and regulatory barriers to life-saving harm-reduction treatment is a necessary step in improving access to care, and in dealing with what has sadly become one of this decade’s most notorious public health challenges.

And while treatment is undoubtedly important, prevention is possibly the most crucial area of focus. Enhancing the new opioid prescription guidelines, improving the restrictions on their marketing, and supporting awareness and stigma reduction for addiction, all contribute to stemming the tide of this crisis.

For all Canadians, access to the right medications is a critical part of an overall approach to health and well-being. In mental health, access to affordable medications is a key component of the treatment plan, in addition to access to other evidence-based services such as structured psychotherapy. We applaud the investment to establish the Canadian Drug Agency Transition Office and its goal to ensure the sustainability and access to medications for all Canadians.

Investing wisely in mental health and addictions is an important step not only in ensuring that Canadians are not only able to achieve a good quality of life, but also in strengthening our economy. The estimated economic burden of poor mental health and addictions reaches a staggering $51B a year (including productivity loss relating to treatment either for oneself or their children). In Ontario alone, it is estimated that parents experienced a $421M productivity lost while tending to their children’s mental health needs. The investments announced in the Federal Budget 2019 are important steps forward. It is crucial that we continue to work together throughout healthcare to better provide integrated care solutions. In so doing, we should expect to maximize our health outcomes, reduce our overall costs and waste within our systems, and raise the bar for high quality services that improve access to care for all Canadians.

This budget is a step in the right direction and builds on the Government’s existing commitments to improving mental health resources across Canada. While good ideas and intentions can point us to where we need to go, it’s the hard work and dedication of the mental health and broader healthcare sector that will ultimately pave the way and get us to where we all need to be. With the continued support of investments like these, and the leadership of stakeholders across the country — including young people and families — we are confident that each step will indeed be one more in the right direction.