October 7, 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 pleased to see new investments in mental health and addiction treatment and supports for Ontarians. However, these investments still fall short of the government’s commitment to invest $3.8 billion over ten years in addiction and mental health services.
While we welcome any investments that will improve access to quality care, these investments should be made as part of a plan with specific, public goals, as promised in the Roadmap to Wellness. What we have seen is an uncoordinated approach to funding services that has further fragmented a mental health and addiction system, making it harder for Ontarians to find and be connected to the right care, at the right time and place. People desperately need easier, faster access to services.
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.
Mental health affects every single Ontarian one way or another, especially as COVID-19 concerns rise. Ontario’s mental health and addiction leaders are critically concerned about the impact that COVID-19 has already had on Ontarians, in particular the trauma endured by front line professionals and caregivers. Research shows that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts racialized and lower-income people. Overdose rates and opioid related deaths have increased during the months of the pandemic by up to 35-40% on a weekly basis, according to Ontario’s Chief Coroner. The most vulnerable, children and seniors, are at high risk, with some child and youth mental health centres already seeing a 20 to 100 per cent increase in the rate of demand since last year.
The mental health of Ontarians is not just a social issue. It is also an economic issue. The pandemic of mental illness and addiction is affecting Ontarians’ ability to work, earn an income, pay taxes, maintain stable housing and care for their families. We are greatly concerned about the impact on generations to come if we do not embed sustained, mental health and addiction care as part of recovery efforts.
The Ontario government has promised to create a comprehensive and connected system for mental health and addiction and to invest $3.8 billion over ten years.
We need a focus on reducing wait times and improving the quality of services. That demands an investment of $380 million per year within the health system, not outside of it. The time is now.