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OPINION: Let’s talk about a coordinated approach to improving our mental health system

Twenty per cent of Canadians are affected by mental illness. Each year suicide claims nearly 4,000 lives in Canada. Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadians under the age of 34, after car accidents.

However, only 1 in 5 youth seeking mental health services receive the care they need, and two thirds of Canadians lost by suicide were found not to receive any treatment at all.

These alarming statistics are not new and can be found using a basic Google search. But what Google can’t tell you is when Canada will step up and confront these issues through a coordinated effort to improve the mental health system across the country.

The conversation on mental health grew louder yesterday as millions of Canadians came together to participate in Bell Let’s Talk Day, raising awareness and funds for mental health by sharing statistics, personal stories and the call to action that more needs to be done.

Over the last two decades, provinces have developed numerous plans with the purpose of improving their mental health systems and enhancing access to services for its residents. The plans vary by province, but they all lack the funding needed to see their changes through. This is because very little money provided to the provinces through federal transfers for health services is allocated to mental health.

Recognizing that the mental health system remains ill-equipped to meet the needs of Canadians today, the Liberal government has committed to making high-quality mental health services more available through a new multi-year Health Accord, and emphasizes that new money will come with strings attached.

While both levels of government agree that more money needs to be spent on mental health, the bitter federal-provincial fight over health care dollars and current patchwork of bilateral deals between Ottawa and seven of the provinces/territories will only exacerbate the variations we currently see in the quality of mental health care provided across the country.

Going Forward.

While the steps taken in recent years are leading in the right direction the conversation cannot end today.

Going forward, federal and provincial leaders and health ministers must come back to the table to discuss a coordinated approach to spending mental health funding and increasing access to services, to promote more uniform mental health systems and to ensure Canadians have access to the care they need, no matter where they live.

It is critical that this conversation not be exclusive to the first ministers or ministers of health. Governments should empower institutions and associations, care providers, front-line workers, and Canadians with lived experience, including youth and families, to be part of the conversation to ensure all voices are heard. Because if we do not listen to those using the system, and pinpoint the biggest challenges they face, the system will not be designed to meet its constituent’s greatest needs.

Let’s talk about a coordinated approach to improving our mental health system

By Jessica Stepic