Mental health organizations urge openness on targeted federal funds
OTTAWA – Three leading mental health organizations want provincial and territorial health ministers to be open to targeted federal investments.
In a letter, the heads of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association note that billions of dollars are spent on health, but only seven per cent goes to mental health.
The organizations say targeted mental-health funding must be part of a new health accord.
"If the federal minister (Jane Philpott) is inclined to spend money on specific mental-health initiatives, let's give her every reason to open up the country's coffers," the letter said.
Mental health could be left out in the cold "yet again" if strings are not attached to federal dollars, the president of the mental health commission said Friday.
Canada faces a crisis in mental health, Louise Bradley said, adding it costs the country more than $50 billion a year in lost productivity.
It also costs lives, she said.
"We have people dying every day," Bradley said in an interview. "We don't tend to think of mental illness as a terminal illness and yet we lose 4,000 people... registered as dying by suicide every year in Canada. One in five Canadians at this very moment are suffering from a mental illness."
The issue of health spending is the source of a heated debate as Ottawa attempts to reach an agreement on an accord – designed to set shared goals for how billions in federal funds are directed – with the provinces and territories.
The main source of friction is the proposed, three per cent annual rate of increase for health transfers, down from six per cent – a hot topic at last month's meeting of health ministers in Toronto.
Dr. Catherine Zahn, president of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said Friday that health negotiations always present a delicate balance, but she said she personally believes the issue is pressing enough to bring everyone to the table.
"It is not unique in any one province," she said, adding that most industrialized nations earmark more for mental health.
The provinces are now pushing for health spending to be on the agenda when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets the premiers on Dec. 8 and 9 to discuss climate change – another irritant in the federal-provincial relationship.
Mental-health organizations also want to see it prioritized at the meeting.
"Climate change is also extremely important, but if peoples' minds are simply not the way they need to be in knowledge economy, how can we address anything?" Bradley said.
Zahn said she has heard directly from prime minister about the issue.
"This is a cause that is close to his heart, as everyone knows, it is not a secret and he deeply understands the issues surrounding the inadequacy of many of our current approaches to care," she said.
For her part, Philpott has firmly noted the federal government wants to see greater accountability for all future health investments, noting experts from across the country "believe in measurement."
Some provinces have indeed signalled an openness to directed spending on mental health, but everyone must get on side, said mental health association president Patrick Smith.
"This is something we are all wanting to do, so let's move on and do it," he said.
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