CMHA wants Ontario to 'treat mental illness like the flu'

Treat mental illness the same as the flu — that’s what Erase the Difference, a new campaign by the Canadian Mental Health Association wants the province to do.

Of $54 billion Ontario spends on healthcare, only $3.5 billion goes to mental health, addictions

If mental health workers reject the offer from the local CMHA both sides will have to return to the bargaining table or face a work stoppage. (Shutterstock/Pressmaster)

Treat mental illness the same as the flu — that's the message behind a new Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) campaign called Erase the Difference.

CMHA's Ontario division heads the campaign and it aims to pressure Ontario to bring mental health and addictions funding up to par with the rest of the healthcare system.

Camille Quenneville, CEO of CMHA Ontario, told CBC News there is a large difference in mental health funding versus physical health.

"Focusing on just mental health and addiction we have about 6.5 per cent of the overall health budget and we should be at 10 per cent," she said.

Camille Quenneville, CEO of CMHA Ontario, said there is a significant difference in mental health funding versus physical health. (@CamilleQu/Twitter)

Ontario devotes only $3.5 billion of the total $54 billion health budget to mental health and addictions.

Fred Wagner, executive director of CMHA Waterloo Wellington said in a statement the mental health and addictions health care system is "chronically underfunded."

The lack of adequate funding can create problems for people with mental health and addictions issues, such as longer wait times for assessment or treatment. Currently in Ontario, the average wait time to see a counsellor is five months.

That's unacceptable, said Quenneville.

"It's not OK to wait for much-needed mental health and addiction services and the fact that we're used to it doesn't make it OK," she said.

"I don't think we treat our physical health that way and we don't think about our physical health that way."

'A life-threatening illness'

The painful truth is all too real for Jacob Ranton's family. The 20-year-old basketball star died by suicide three years ago in Waterloo.

"The one thing that we tell people is Jacob died of a life-threatening illness," Doug Ranton said during an interview with CBC News. 

Doug and Sandra Ranton have been advocates for suicide prevention, since losing their son Jacob to suicide in 2014. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"Whether it's cancer or heart disease, etc., mental illness is a disease as well and it can be life-threatening. If it's not treated and people don't get help, it can be dangerous."

The Rantons are part of a growing movement calling for openness and transparency about suicide.

'Erase the difference'

The CMHA campaign is asking Ontarians to sign an online petition to "erase the difference and fund mental health and addictions care the same as physical health care."

As of Tuesday morning, there were just over 4,000 signatures.

Quenneville said the campaign is important because "every family in Canada is impacted by mental health and addictions."

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in Canada and people with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die prematurely — 10 to 20 years earlier — than the general population, according to statistics gathered by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

One in five Ontarians will experience a mental health problem in any given year and the disease burden of mental illness is 1.5 times the burden of all cancers combined.

Quenneville said the statistics paint "a very clear picture of the impact of mental health issues and addictions issues in society, and we just don't fund it accordingly."

She said an increase in funding would go toward providing better service, increasing the number of programs available and making said programs more available.

The funding would support research, which she said is another area that needs more support when compared to physical health research.

The campaign comes as a provincial election looms in June, something the CMHA is using to their advantage.

"We think the timing is great, we are months away from a provincial election when people are really focused on issues that matter to them and on public policy," said Quenneville.

"We want to really galvanize some attention here, increase public discourse get people taking about this issue."