We are facing a mental health crisis across Canada and we are seeing the effects of it here in Toronto every day. I have been discussing these issues for years now, but with the current mental health crisis, today is an appropriate day to make a more detailed statement.
Last year alone demand for psychological services in Ontario grew by 50%, and according to the Ontario Psychological Association in our province approximately 900,000 young people are living with mental illness. According the CAMH one in two Canadians have, or have had, a mental illness by the time they reach 40 years of age.
Perhaps the best evidence of the mental health crisis comes with substance related issues, which, of course, have a direct relationship to mental health. Nationally, from January to June of last year, 32,632 Canadians lost their lives as a result of opioid-related deaths, with 90% of them occurring in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario–opioid overdoses now account for more deaths in Canada than car accidents. We can’t just recite these numbers, we need to do more.
A lack of mental health supports undoubtedly contributes to a number of issues we are seeing in cities across the country. Some of this may have been brought on by the pandemic experience, and it’s high time we took an urgent, in-depth look at this possible cause and effect.
Despite our limited means as a municipality, in the 2023 budget we have committed $1.53 million in direct tax base funding to Toronto Public Health for mental health and addictions support. More than this, we’ve committed $13.75 million to the landmark Toronto Community Crisis Services pilot – the maximum amount requested to support and grow the program this year – so that trained mental health professionals can respond to calls diverted from 9-1-1 in lieu of police for individuals in crisis. We’re working hard as a city to responsibly scale this initiative that has shown great success in its first year.
Mental health care is health care – and it should be treated as such and funded like the rest of our health care system by the provincial and federal governments working together.
The lack of spending on mental health – particularly as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic – is painfully clear on the streets of municipalities across the country. When people are suffering and unable to receive adequate support, frequently they are left on our streets, on our transit systems, and in our emergency rooms to fend for themselves. When the federal and provincial governments don’t fully and adequately fund mental health care, the responsibility is offloaded to ill-equipped municipalities across Canada which are without the financial resources to address this crisis – it is offloaded to our shelters, to our police services, to our transit systems, and to hospital emergency departments.
In recent years we’ve seen governments of Ontario and Canada recognize this by creating Ministers of Mental Health and Addictions in Minister Michael Tibollo provincially, and Minister Carolyn Bennett federally–a much-needed and welcome move from both governments. Now it’s time for us all to walk the walk together.
I believe our country’s leaders—Mayors, Ministers, Premiers, and the Prime Minister—need to come together in a national summit to discuss how we can better coordinate across governments to support Canadians living with mental health and substance addiction challenges. I made this proposal directly to the Prime Minister in December
This summit must be the moment we start treating mental health care as health care. That we clearly decide on who has responsibility to do what, and to get on with doing much more together.
In the 2021 federal election, we heard a commitment for permanent, ongoing funding for mental health services under the Canada Mental Health Transfer for $4.5 billion over 5 years–a commitment which has yet to come to life.
The time is now for our governments who fund and deliver health care at the federal and provincial level to take real action with serious, long-term funding, to support mental health and addictions treatment across our country.
This is the best way to help those experiencing mental health crises in our cities – including many young people – and I believe it is one of the best ways we can address a number of issues our cities are facing right now.
Three years ago, we confronted the COVID-19 pandemic and in that moment all governments worked together to help people and to help each other get through those tough times. Now we are facing a mental health crisis that requires that same level of dedication, cooperation and commitment.