November 6, 2020: Ontario’s leading mental health organizations including Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Children’s Mental Health Ontario, The Royal, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care are disappointed that the Ontario government has failed to recognize the mental health and addiction crisis in Ontario in the 2020 Budget.
Just over a week ago, on October 29, 2020, Premier Doug Ford told reporters that the mental health of Ontarians is his government’s number one priority. The comment was a reminder of the commitment to create a comprehensive and connected system for mental health and addiction and to invest $3.8 billion over 10 years. But as the 2020 Budget included no new announcements for additional mental health and addiction services we are concerned the government is not taking this parallel pandemic seriously.
While the investment of $176 million from last month will provide new services for some Ontarians, it falls much too short of the significant investments needed. It is disappointing that the budget does not include any indication of how the government intends to fulfill their promise to build a comprehensive and connected mental health system.
Even before the onset of COVID-19, more than one million people in Ontario experienced mental health and addiction challenges every year. Ontarians were already facing wait times of up to 2.5 years to access mental health and addiction services, often turning to emergency rooms in crisis.
The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health has been profound and cannot be ignored any longer. Ontarians are experiencing greater rates of anxiety, stress and depression fueled by social isolation, loneliness and other effects of this pandemic. Public health measures pose risks to the declining health of people living with severe and persistent mental illness. Ontarians are also using more substances and, tragically, rates of opioid-related deaths are skyrocketing. The province’s chief coroner estimated overdoses and opioid-related deaths are up 40 per cent since the pandemic began.
The mental health of Ontarians is not just a social issue, it is an economic issue. Ontarians who are struggling with mental illness or substance use during this pandemic are facing difficulties working, earning an income, paying taxes, maintaining stable housing and caring for their families – this should have been a top priority of the government’s budget.
As sector leaders, we are concerned that the government is failing to recognize the magnitude of the mental health and addiction crisis occurring in parallel to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no new funding provided to support the mental health of Ontarians wait lists will continue to grow across the province. In the absence of implementing a mental health and addictions strategy, there will continue to be unclear pathways to care for people who need it and service availability and quality will vary depending on where Ontarians live, their level of income, their race and gender.
We need a focus on reducing wait times and improving the quality of services. This demands a commitment to flow the remaining $204 million for mental health support before the end of the fiscal year and a public, 10-year plan to implement the Roadmap to Wellness and meet the platform commitment of $3.8 billion over 10 years. The time is now.