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The mental health crisis in Ontario can be addressed better; lives depend on it

OPSEU Mental Health Division / SEFPO Division de la sante mentale du SEFPO

People around the world are hurting. Ontarians are no different. Mental health struggles for millions of people are a constant battle and now with a global pandemic thrown in the mix, the wellness of our population has hit a crisis point. 

Every year on October 10, people around the globe observe World Mental Health Day. It is one day of awareness so we can share ideas and create the tools needed to fight this crisis every day of the year. 

This year, COVID-19 has exposed the cracks in our provincial mental health system. People are losing their jobs, reeling from illnesses or deaths of loved ones, and facing a future of unique change.  Ontario has an opportunity to build on existing investments in order to create a truly responsive and effective mental health system that is grounded in properly funded and accessible programming. This will ensure every community has the necessary services and supports. 

Black and Indigenous communities, for instance, have needs that deserve significant and immediate attention. They experience intense mental anguish from systemic racism and have a higher risk of suicide than the overall population. We can, and must, do better for everyone. 

Ontario’s mobile crisis team model is a great example on how that can be done. 

This model has proven effective and reduces costly interventions. The government must stabilize permanent funding and expand this programming across the province because between police and mental health and addictions professionals reduces costly arrest rates, hospital admissions, and saves lives. 

Mental health courts are also providing positive results. There are currently 19 operating in the province. More are needed to pro-actively divert racialized populations, which are overrepresented in a criminal justice system that is not designed to support mental health issues. 

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 10 per cent of Ontarians struggle with addiction. In 2019 the provincial Auditor General (AG) reported that wait times for addiction treatment services had increased and that individuals did not have access to effective and prompt community-based addictions treatment services. 

The evidence is clear, investing in community mental health services which include diversion, early intervention, crisis response, addictions treatment and follow-up, saves public funds and prevents Ontarians from accessing more costly services. 

On behalf of the thousands of OPSEU members who work in the mental health field, OPSEU/SEFPO wishes everyone a positive and happy World Mental Health Day. 

To read OPSEU/SEFPO’s submission, Expanded, culturally sensitive, mental health and addictions services save lives and money, click here