The pandemic of mental illness predated COVID-19 by decades. Mental illness, including substance use disorders, is a burning hot issue right now. 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 up to 2.5 year wait times to access mental health and addiction services in some cases, often turning to emergency rooms in crisis.
The mental health of Ontarians is 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 effects on generations to come if we do not embed sustained, mental health and addiction care as part of recovery efforts.
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 those who have lost loved ones. 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 50 per cent increase in the rate of demand since last year.
Providers of mental health and addiction services continue to advocate to the Ministry of Health and the Ontario government, asking that they reaffirm their commitment to develop and implement a comprehensive and connected system for Ontarians, investing $3.8 billion over ten years. This includes flowing $380 million in immediate funds for new services before the end of the year, along with the release of an implementation plan that includes specific priority outcomes and accountabilities. This also includes multi-year funding to support and save the lives of those impacted by mental health and addiction issues.
Now is a critical time to invest the committed funding into the mental health of Ontarians, an investment that will pay both health and economic-related dividends for years to come.
In our meeting we stressed the importance of the Ontario government meeting its mental health and addiction commitment. We are concerned that two years after coming into government there is still no funding to reduce wait times for Ontarians waiting for mental health and addiction services.
We are calling for a recommitment to the government’s promise to invest $3.8 billion over ten years to build a comprehensive and connected mental health and addiction system.
To date, the province has not kept up with promised, targeted investments for mental health and addiction of $380 million per year, even as demands increase as a result of COVID-19. For the mental health and addiction sector to continue to provide the often life-saving treatment and services Ontarians need, a comprehensive system funding package is needed now.