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Math games no answer

by Patrick Raftis

With many experts decrying a crisis-level lack of mental health supports in Ontario, it’s encouraging to see local efforts being made to fill gaps in a chronically-underfunded health system. In Wellington County we have a local crisis as well, as addiction issues and a tragic number of youth suicides have grief stricken communities seeking solutions.

This week’s Community News contains a story on plans by local hospital boards to build safe rooms for assessment and treatment of mental health patients at Louise Marshall Hospital and Palmerston and District Hospital.

Also in the news this week is a proposal from Sanguen Health Centre, which provides Hepatitis C testing, treatment, support, outreach, and education in Guelph-Wellington and Waterloo Region, to bring a mobile Community Health Van to Minto and Erin. While not specifically a mental health service, operators recognize the majority of their clients struggle with mental health issues, making services that come to them a vital link to the health care system.

On Jan. 22, Minto council heard from representatives of a local committee spearheading an initiative that includes creation of mintomentalhealth.ca, designed as a hub to connect Minto residents with available services in the area.

At that meeting, councillor Mark MacKenzie made a comment that inspired a bit of pushback from other councillors.

“What I’m reading here and hearing is suggesting that our local health care is not doing the job for us,” MacKenzie said after hearing about the community-driven effort and the reasons behind it.

Mayor George Bridge’s response that he is “not really blaming community mental health” because “the system is over-stressed,” was representative of the council reaction.

However, perhaps MacKenzie was really getting at a key element of the problem. After all, most health care is locally delivered, but provincially funded.

An annual survey conducted by the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health shows more than one in 10 Ontario adults say they are struggling with mental health issues. Nearly 12 per cent of respondents reported experiencing frequent mental distress in 2017, up from 7.4% the year before.

In addition, Ontario has experienced a 60% increase in hospitalizations and a 54% increase in emergency department visits for children and youth seeking treatment for mental health issues in the past decade. Over 12,000 young people are waiting for access to mental health therapy.

Organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association are calling for additional funding to address the many gaps in the mental health care system. In response the provincial government has offered a math challenge.

The current government is delivering on its campaign pledge to inject $1.9 billion over the next 10 years, to match federal funding for mental health. However, shortly after taking office they cut $2.1 billion in additional provincial dollars over four years for mental health services, which had been announced by the previous government.

“Why is the premier cutting new funding for mental health by $330 million a year?” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asked in the legislature at the time.

It’s a good question.

Mental health services are under strain at local, provincial and federal levels. Only with all levels of government working in concert with dedicated community leaders and volunteers will we be able to find and fund solutions.

 

February 15, 2019

 
 

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