85% of Canadians agree mental-health services are underfunded: survey

Eighty-five per cent of Canadians said mental-health services are among the most underfunded in the health-care system, according to a new survey commissioned by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The survey accompanies a national policy paper, which calls for new legislation to address unmet mental-health needs and bring mental-health care into balance with physical health care. It also found 86 per cent of respondents agreed the government of Canada should fund mental health at the same level as physical health.

“Our universal health-care system is a point of pride for Canadians,” said Dr. Patrick Smith, national chief executive officer at the CMHA. “But the reality is, we don’t have a universal health-care system, but a universal medical system that doesn’t guarantee access to some of the most basic mental-health services and supports.”

Read: Majority of Canadians suffering from a mental-health issue, sleeping disorder: survey

More than half (53 per cent) of Canadians said they consider anxiety and depression to be epidemic in Canada. Yet Canada dedicates only 7.2 per cent of its health-care budget to mental health, according to the report.

While up to 80 per cent of Canadians said they rely on their family physicians to meet their mental-health care needs, those services are limited, noted the report. It said evidence-based health care provided by addiction counsellors, psychologists, social workers and specialized peer support workers is provided in other G7 countries, but these services aren’t guaranteed through Canada’s public system. As a result, Canadians spend almost a billion dollars ($950 million) on counselling services each year — 30 per cent of it out of pocket.

 ”Canadians are suffering from health conditions that are preventable or manageable with the right supports,” said Dr. Smith. “By adopting and promoting a stepped-care approach to mental-health service delivery that matches people to the right services and supports to meet their needs, Canadians will have better access to the right care at the right time.”

Read: 49% of Canadians suffer from mental illness at some point: survey

The report also recommended that the imbalance in research funding for mental health compared to physical health should be addressed. Canada needs sustained research investment in mental health to spur innovation, better translate scientific knowledge into practice and develop therapies that are appropriate, effective and that promote treatment acceptance for people with mental illnesses, according to the report. 

“The system is ailing, but we have a treatment plan to nurture it back to health,” says Dr. Smith. “When we improve service and supports for the one in five Canadians who will experience mental illness in any given year, we will see benefits in health outcomes, quality of life and well-being for all Canadians — the five in five — who have mental health.”