Manitoba lays out 5-year plan to improve mental health care

Too many Manitobans are struggling to access the mental health supports they need — but the province says it has a five-year plan to change that.

Province vows to simplify access and reduce waiting lists, but clinical psychologist says strategy too vague

Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard speaks at an announcement Thursday, where the province unveiled the framework of a five-year plan to improve mental health care. (Global Pool Camera)

Too many Manitobans are struggling to access the mental health supports they need — but the province says it has a five-year plan to change that.

On Thursday, Mental Health Minister Sarah Guillemard unveiled the broad strokes of a new approach to delivering mental health services in the province.

Details are sparse so far, but the province says it intends to provide easier to access services, reduce wait-lists and ensure more people receive support.

The Progressive Conservative government is also pledging $23.7 million to support existing programming and $17.1 million for new initiatives over the first year of the plan.

"Most of us have had moments where we've struggled, or know someone who has struggled with their mental well-being during this pandemic," Guillemard said at a Thursday news conference at River Point Centre, an addictions treatment facility in Winnipeg.

"Today's announcement is significant for me, not just as a minister but also as a Manitoban who has experienced some of the obstacles accessing supports."

System more accessible in 1 year: Guillemard

Guillemard said the first year of the program will focus on enhancing existing core services, such as counselling and addiction services and supports for youth.

"What we anticipate … is that the people who have the needs and use the system" will find that it is "easier, more accessible," she said.

"We are anticipating we'll see the wait-list go down, obviously, as more services are made available to those who are seeking them."

The strategy is informed by 3,000 Manitobans who took part in a consultation process that launched last summer.

In particular, the five-year vision will establish new criteria to ensure more Manitobans are eligible for help and not turned away.

The province is vowing to build a co-ordinated response to prevent suicide, launch a strategy to stamp out the stigma surrounding mental health and reduce people's reliance on tobacco and vaping with cessation and control initiatives.

The province also says patient records will be kept electronically, so an individual won't be required to recite their struggles to every medical professional they encounter.

"Every new visit I would spend most of the time repeating my story," said an anonymous person quoted in the government's strategy document. "This made it hard to make progress." 

Manitoba will also follow through on its previously announced commitment to develop a diabetes prevention strategy.

As well, the province has promised to support the creation of culturally relevant programs and services for Indigenous people.

There will also be a concerted effort to reduce incidences of chronic disease, since it can impact the health-care system in the future, the province says.

Details lacking: clinical psychologist

A clinical psychologist from Winnipeg said the province's strategy is short on specifics, and doesn't do enough to address the needs of the mental health system.

Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman said if there was a similar attempt to reform the system to care for physical health, it would be far more exhaustive.

Such a strategy would cite the various medical professionals involved, the reforms needed at emergency departments and the number of beds, among other categories, he said.

The mental health plan "makes me think that there's either a lack of awareness or lack of sincerity or intent, because we don't have that specificity here," said Abdulrehman.

The 30-page strategy document also does not mention how it will accomplish its goals, such as navigating the system, he said.

Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, a clinical psychologist, finds the province's mental health strategy lacking in specifics. (CBC)

When asked about the vagueness of the province's strategy, Guillemard said the purpose of Thursday's announcement was to introduce the framework of the five-year plan. More announcements will follow, she said.

Rita Chahal, executive director with the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, said she's encouraged to hear the government acknowledge its shortfalls in the continuum of mental health care.

When her organization was consulted, it spoke about gaps in youth services and assistance for Indigenous people and rural Manitobans. She said the strategy highlighted all of those areas.

"We're very pleased to hear that the government and, in particular, this department has heard the voices and the concerns, suggestions or recommendations that the sector has provided them," Chahal said.

She's hopeful the government's strategy will make the improvements to mental health that it pledges.

In recent years, the Manitoba government has released numerous reports that dealt with the failings of the mental health system, including the Virgo report from 2018 and the 2017 findings from Dr. David Peachey that informed that reduction of emergency departments in Winnipeg from six to three. 

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there. Contact the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170) or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.

Or contact Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. CT only) | 


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. You can reach him at