A failure to reach a deal on health-care funding has sparked a renewed call by some experts and advocates to boost funding for mental health, with one psychologist saying there's a "huge gap between the burden of illness and how much we're investing." 

Federal and provincial ministers failed to reach a deal on health-care funding on Monday.  Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Health Minister Jane Philpott had offered $11.5 billion over 10 years for home care and mental health, on top of a 3.5 per cent annual increase in health transfers over the next five years to the provinces and territories.

About one in five Canadians is diagnosed with a mental health or addictions issue in their lifetime.


The wait list for hospital-based cognitive behavioural programs can be up to three years.

Patrick Smith, a psychologist and national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), says the unintended consequences of gaps in mental health care are all around us. "We see it in people in the streets, in ERs and even in our jail system."

"If this were something like hips and knees, people would be picketing in the streets that there's such a huge gap between the burden of illness and how much we're investing," Smith says.

'It's urgent' 

The CEO of Childrens' Mental Health Ontario, which represents publicly-funded mental health centres across the province, says Canada can't continue to have so many die by suicide.

"We think children's mental health is at a crisis in this country and that the provinces and the federal government have to act, no matter whether this agreement goes through or not," says Kim Moran. "It's urgent and it's a crisis."

When Moran's daughter was 11, she sat on wait lists unable to get the treatment she needed until she was hospitalized. After three years of intensive treatment for severe depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and an anxiety disorder, she's in recovery and doing well, her mother says.

"When you let a child sit on a wait list sometimes things can go into crisis and it becomes very difficult to get them in a healthy state again."

Some hospital-based cognitive behavioural programs exist but the wait lists can be up to three years, Smith says. Cognitive behavioural programs offer people short-term psychotherapy to learn ways to change thinking patterns or behaviours.

Receiving the therapy from a psychologist in private practice can cost up to $250 per hour, says Smith, who has worked in British Columbia.

Of the billions spent on health care in Canada, the CMHA said about seven per cent goes to mental health. In the United Kingdom, 13 per cent does.

But evidence from the United Kingdom and Australia — where that state offers no-cost psychotherapy by social workers and psychologists with psychiatrists as consultants — show long-lasting benefits

Dr. Catherine Zahn, CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, welcomed how mental health is now on the table in the health-care funding negotiations. Zahn credited increasing awareness and emerging science on how people can recover with appropriate care and support with putting it on the agenda.

Zahn, Moran and Smith are hopeful that a deal on mental-health funding will come. 

Where to get help

Kids Help Phone:  1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs: 

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Anger.
  • Recklessness.
  • Mood changes.

With files from CBC's Christine Birak