The current mental health system is not meeting the needs of Canadians. It’s time for often-neglected, under-funded mental health care to be on par with physical health care. This according to a local director of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“Because mental health problems can’t be seen on the surface like a broken arm, we don’t always make them priorities until it is too late,” said Julia Payson, executive director for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Vernon and District branch.
“Suicide is the second most common cause of death amongst our youth in British Columbia, yet only one out of five children who need mental health services receives them.”
According to a new survey commissioned by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 85 per cent of Canadians say mental health services are among the most underfunded services in our health-care system—and the majority agree (86 per cent) that the Government of Canada should fund mental health at the same level as physical health.
Despite recent mental health funding commitments made by the federal government, over 1.6 million Canadians report unmet mental health care needs each year.
“Canadians are fortunate that we all have access to a universal health care system,” said Payson. “Unfortunately, there is a disparity between our medical system and health care that provides basic mental health services and supports.”
Over half of Canadians (53 per cent) consider anxiety and depression to be ‘epidemic’ in Canada, with that perception spiking amongst younger people.
Fifty-nine per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds consider anxiety and depression to be ‘epidemic’ in Canada, followed closely by addiction (56 per cent) and ahead of physical illnesses such as cancer (50 per cent), heart disease and stroke (34 per cent), diabetes (31 per cent) and HIV/AIDS (13 per cent).
Worldwide, mental illness accounts for about 23 per cent of the total disease burden, yet Canada dedicates only 7.2 per cent of its health-care budget to mental health. And the need for mental health services and supports is growing. By 2020, depression is expected to be the leading cause of disease in Canada.
“We know that when depression is diagnosed, treatment can make a difference for 80 per cent of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular lives,” said Payson. “Two things we can do for early intervention and prevention is address stigma to help ensure those who need help feel confident in asking for it, and provide easy access and resources to programs and services that can help.”
One such program is CMHA’s Bounce Back for adults and youth, which helps individuals overcome symptoms of mild to moderate depression or anxiety, and improve their mental health. The program is free but only offered in B.C., Manitoba and Ontario.
The survey accompanies a national CMHA policy paper, Mental Health in the Balance: Ending the Health Care Disparity in Canada, released today, which calls for new legislation to address unmet mental health needs and bring mental health care into balance with physical health care.
CMHA is proposing “The Mental Health Parity Act” to not just increase funding for mental health services, but also to improve coordination, treatment, research and access, and making better choices about how best to spend health-care dollars effectively.
Lengthy wait times are a problem, in part, because there has been a chronic under-funding of community-based mental health services and a reliance on intensive, high-cost services like psychiatrists and hospitals.
Up to 80 per cent of Canadians rely on their family physicians to meet their mental health care needs, but those services are limited. Evidence-based health care provided by addiction counsellors, psychologists, social workers and specialized peer support workers is the foundation of the mental health response in other G7 countries, but these services are not guaranteed through our public system. Consequently, Canadians spend almost a billion dollars ($950 million) on counselling services each year — 30 per cent of it out of pocket.
CMHA Vernon & District provides education, employment and empowerment to individuals and families across the mental health continuum. Programs serve a diverse population aged seven to 75+ providing affordable housing, social enterprise employment and training programs, peer support and mental wellness education.
“Programs for some of our most vulnerable community members such as youth aged 7 to 17, are funded entirely by donations and grants. Other programs receive partial government funding, but must rely on community donations to continue operating,” said Payson.
Many people with complex or chronic mental health problems do not receive the full scope of care they need and end up cycling through the acute care system.
A more integrated continuum of care provided through community mental health services can meet the needs of as many people with mental health problems as possible by including early intervention and prevention, enhanced treatment for those who need it, and longer-term follow-up and supervision for those with severe and persistent illness.
In addition to improving quality of life and health outcomes, mental health promotion, mental illness prevention and early intervention can reduce the burden on Canada’s health-care system.
A recent study on the treatment of depression estimated that every dollar spent on publicly funded psychological services would save two dollars for the health system.
“Our vision of mentally healthy people in a healthy society can be achieved by improving service and supports for the one in five Canadians who will experience mental illness annually,” said Payson.
Click to download the Summary Report of Mental Health in the Balance, Ending the Health Care Disparity in Canada, or the 24-page Full Report.