P.E.I.'s spending on mental health treatment and supports is increasing, but it still lags far beyond the level of spending advocates have been calling for.

Health PEI's budget for mental health and addictions for 2017-18 stands at $45 million — up from last year's spending of $41 million.

But as a percentage of Health PEI's overall budget that's just 6.8 per cent. The Canadian Mental Health Association and other groups have been advocating for provinces to increase their mental health spending to nine per cent of overall health care expenditures.

For P.E.I., that would be $60 million this year. To put the figures another way: the province's mental health budget would have to increase by 33 per cent in order to reach that target.

Spending in Canada behind other countries: report

P.E.I.'s mental health spending isn't out of line with the rest of Canada according to figures from a 2012 report from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

That report, billed as the country's first national mental health strategy and funded by Health Canada, found seven per cent of health care spending in the country was going toward mental health.

The report's authors concluded that "fragmented and underfunded mental health systems across the country are far from able to meet the mental health needs of Canadians."

For comparison, the commission pointed to countries like the U.K. and New Zealand, where 10 per cent or more of health care spending is targeted to mental health.

'There's a crisis here, and it has to be met'

"The province doesn't spend enough on mental health, it's like the rest of the country," said Mary Boyd, chair of the P.E.I. Health Coalition.

Boyd said the lack of funding has led to long wait times for Islanders seeking treatment.

mary boyd

Mary Boyd, chair of the P.E.I. Health Coalition, says a lack of funding for mental health professionals is leading to longer wait times, while the incidence of mental health problems is on the rise. (CBC)

"It's creating tremendous worry for people in the province, because there's a high number of people with mental health problems. And it's not to trade one aspect of health off against another, because all health needs are important. But mental health problems are on the increase."

"You have to agree with the people that say there's a crisis here, and it has to be met."

New federal funding 'not transformative,' says minister

Last year the province signed a new health care funding agreement with Ottawa that includes additional funding for mental health services on P.E.I.

In the first year of that agreement, the province has allocated the extra money to mental health supports for Island schools through the Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture.

In budget deliberations during the spring sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature, Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker asked the Minister of Health if the new funding for mental health from the federal government would be enough to bring P.E.I. up to the nine per cent spending level.

P.E.I. Health and Wellness Minister Robert Henderson

P.E.I.'s Health and Wellness Minister Robert Henderson says additional funding for mental health from the federal government totalling $20 million over 10 years won't lift the province up to the nine per cent target. (CBC)

"I don't think it's going to make — it's not transformative, would be my line," replied the minister Robert Henderson.

"You're talking 20-some million dollars over 10 years, so it's about two million a year. You can see that some of the salaries and stuff, it's not going to be transformative."

Mental health chief cites lack of investment

This week the province's chief of mental health and addictions raised concerns about the number of Islanders struggling with crises in mental health, and said a lack of investment by government has made it difficult for health authorities to respond.

"We're really stepping in where there has been very modest capital investment, very modest operational investment over decades in mental health so we're kind of behind, quite a bit compared to our peers in other provinces," said Dr. Heather Keizer.

 "Through the pre-budget consultation process, Health PEI will continue to work with government to identify mental health investment opportunities in resources and programming that support Islanders with mental illness and their families," a spokesperson from Health PEI said in a statement.

Health PEI said further mental health supports are available through other government departments and non-governmental organizations.