Did McGuinty err in his mental heath campaign announcement?

Premier Dalton McGuinty might have found a better venue for his campaign mental health announcement today at the Centre for Mental Health and Addictions (CAMH).

CAMH has experienced significant layoffs over the past two years, yet McGuinty’s announcement really had more to do with support for mental health services delivered mostly elsewhere.

For the first time, however, we have a glimpse of how the Liberals plan to support mental health issues for adults.

After waiting three years for the comprehensive 10-year mental health plan, the McGuinty government instead gave us a three-year plan for child and adolescent mental health this spring. There is no question this is needed – three of four children with mental illness are going without treatment, and waits are frequently more than a year. But what about the adults?

At McGuinty’s announcement he said Ontario would commit $30 million more per year on adult mental health – but not until 2014. This surely must be a mistake on the Premier’s part.

If it’s true, this is insulting on two counts: the first forcing adults with mental illness to wait another three years before their issue can be addressed, the second being the pittance he is offering.

$30 million is a fraction of the cost of the bricks and mortar his government is putting into hard infrastructure at CAMH, North Bay, Windsor, Cambridge and other mental health facilities. If a concrete beam could provide mental health care, this might be a good plan.

This is $30 million on what by then will be a health budget of at least $53 billion (quite literally by Conservative standards). That’s .006 per cent.

Ontario lags far behind other provinces on mental health spending and it’s not even close to reaching the World Health Organization standard, which suggests eight per cent of health care spending should be committed to mental health. Ontario is a little over five per cent.

Ironically CAMH is part of the Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance, which is calling for a comprehensive basket of services in every community, complaining of “wildly uneven” access.

The Alliance states: “In communities across the province, there are shortfalls in service across the many parts of the continuum including access to psychiatric assessments, hospital beds, residential addiction treatment and peer support, to name but a few.”

After a three-year plan that delivered little, the Alliance is calling for “a number of critical policy, planning, and funding capacities” at the provincial level to meet broader system reforms.

They say the needed reforms include clearly articulated goals and objectives, the capacity to plan and fund based on population need, and the ability to monitor and report on the functioning of the system. Wasn’t this all supposed to be in the 10-year plan?

The cost of inaction on this file is huge – the Alliance estimates the economic cost of mental health to be $39 billion annually in Ontario.

There is also a further question about support for mental health issues that fall outside the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. The PC campaign shows programs outside the health and education envelopes being frozen until at least 2017, which raises questions about where the money will come from to address the social determinants of health, including supportive housing. Clearly there is some silo thinking going on in the Tory camp.

Unless Dalton misfired, the Liberal commitment appears to be a smoke screen to a public that is unaware of the scale of this problem. The NDP tell us they still support the all-party plan, which is far from being implemented. To date they have not addressed the issue publicly. The Tories say people have been lost in the mental health system, but offer no remedies in Changebook.

A year ago the three parties were all fired up about addressing the injustices in mental health. A year later nobody appears to want to talk about it.

2 responses to “Did McGuinty err in his mental heath campaign announcement?

  1. Are the parties not coming to the front of this problem because they think people with mental health issues are nuts? When are they going to understand it is all chemical issues in the brain and thus qualifies as health issues period! My angel of a doctor will be soon retiring and I am worried sick about my future care even though I have been stable now for quite a few years. My reason for worrying is that I am not sure if he will be replaced. I would love to see the parties come together and just sink their teeth into this issue and millions of Canadians will be very happy. I say millions because when one member of the family is ill the whole family is suffering along with them.

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