NDP mental health ministry would pull resources from other departments
Andrea Horwath says mental health resources in other ministries are 'just not getting the job done'
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath says the government should pull resources from existing ministries to form a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.
Horwath made the suggestion Friday during an interview on The Morning Edition, one day after the NDP's private member's bill — Bill 149 — was debated at Queen's Park.
The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions Act was put forward on Monday by NDP health critic France Gélinas. After being debated on Thursday, it was referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.
"It's obvious that what we've been doing thus far simply is not working," Horwath said. "The focus is not there. The determination is not there. The follow up is not there. In order to create that real place, that single place where we can start getting a handle on mental health and addictions in this province, we believe there needs to be a separate ministry responsible."
Horwath said a separate ministry would be better equipped to respond to Ontario's opioid crisis and address the dearth of counselling and other support services available to youth and adults.
- 5 people are hospitalized because of opioid poisoning every day in Ontario
- Brantford has the most opioid-related emergency room visits of any city in Ontario
- Ontario campus counsellors say they're drowning in mental health needs
- Mental health system 'in total crisis,' critic warns
She said the resources to finance the new ministry would come from 11 existing ministries that are currently responsible for delivering mental health and addiction services.
"Pull mental health specifically out of Health and Long Term Care," she said. "There are resources within each of these ministries — few and very disjointed resources, mind you, in all of these other places — that are not getting the job done. I'm not blaming the people, there's just no focus, there's just no coordination, there's just no real determination to tackle this growing problem."
"There's no doubt we've come a long way when it comes to stigma and those kinds of things, but that's more community based. What we really need to do is start focusing on how government services need to change to really impact the crisis that we have in mental health and in addictions."
B.C. ministry first in Canada
The Ontario NDP is not the first Canadian political party to propose a ministry of mental health and addictions. The New Democrats in British Columbia formed a similar ministry when they formed government in July 2018.
"People across British Columbia have just not been getting the services that they need for mental health or addictions over the past 16 years and we need to do a lot better," said MLA Judy Darcy during a Power and Politics interview soon after being appointed Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
"We need to catch these issues early. We need to do interventions in schools, with our young people, mental health workers, so that mental health issues don't become severe mental health issues that then turn into substance use and then turn into some of the very serious problems we have in the province."
Minister as 'super-coordinator'
Although its still early days, the fledgling ministry and its minister have been getting good reviews from those working in the mental health field.
"If nobody's in charge, nobody's going to create the solutions, and I think she's in charge. That's how I choose to embrace this new move," said Bev Gutray, CEO of the CMHA in British Columbia.
- Improving access to mental health counselling a priority at UBC
- A 'psychiatric refugee:' why one woman fled B.C.'s mental health laws
"If this is just about another ministry and it gets bogged down in planning and it even slows things down further, well that would be a tremendous loss. But that's not what we're calling for. We're calling for a ministry and a minister that can actually be the super-coordinator of all of the mental healthcare that is delivered across those multiple ministries."
You can drop millions of dollars on the issues – billions of dollars on the issue – and not get anything done at all if you do all the wrong things. But you can get a lot done with not much if you do it the right way.- Sarah Blyth
As in Ontario, mental healthcare in British Columbia is delivered by multiple ministries. The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in B.C. does not directly provide services, but coordinates the services of the other ministries. That's what makes it different from the ministry being proposed by the NDP in Ontario.
"As far as the delivery of mental health services and addiction services right now, they remain with the Ministry of Health," Gutray said, "but as far as how they are focused or where new investments go, I see that as [the minister's] role. It's not just a facilitator. I really see her as the super coordinator... That's the only way we're going to actually make headway."
A focus on the opioid crisis
Having a dedicated minister is also beneficial for the simple fact that it puts a focus on mental health and addictions, said Sarah Blyth, who coordinates the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver's downtown Eastside.
While she is encouraged by Darcy's activist past and personal history, she said she does worry about the position's future.
- Son of B.C. finance minister shares story of recovery from addiction
- What we learned phoning every drug rehab facility in British Columbia
"Our minister is great," she said, "but the next person — it really depends on the person. It depends on whether they've got the gumption to actually do something or they're going to sit in a position and put money towards things that are and aren't going to work."
"You can drop millions of dollars on the issues – billions of dollars on the issue – and not get anything done at all if you do all the wrong things. But you can get a lot done with not much if you do it the right way."