Mental health association says physical and mental health should get same funding

The Canadian Mental Health Association is asking that mental health support and services receive more funding. The Saskatchewan government says it is increasing funding each year to meet the national average.

Sask. spends about 5% of its budget annually on mental health; national average is 7%

When mental health needs go unmet, people will sometimes turn to acute, short-term treatment such as the emergency rooms, according to the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Saskatchewan. (Don Somers/CBC News)

A new paper by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is calling on governments to spend as much money on mental health as they do physical health.

The paper, Mental Health in the Balance: Ending the Health Care Disparity in Canada, said mental health needs sometimes go unaddressed because they're usually not covered or those who need them can't afford them.

"A lot of the mental health needs can actually be met by ... unfunded services like psychologists, therapists — so what we're calling for is just to have some parity between physical health receives as supports for its services and what mental health receives," Phyllis O'Connor, executive director with the CMHA Saskatchewan, said on Tuesday.

The paper is calling on governments across Canada to devote about nine per cent of total annual spending on mental health services and initiatives.

Saskatchewan spends about five per cent, according to the paper. The national average is seven per cent.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said the province is committed to matching the national average of seven per cent on mental health spending.

"[The] Ministry is taking an incremental approach to doing so — increasing the amount we invest from one budget year to the next," the statement said. 

An additional $11.4 million is being invested this year, for a total of $284 million.

Wait times are another barrier, O'Connor said. Publicly-funded mental health services for adults have wait times of three to six months. For youth, that can stretch up to two years.

"It's all a case of meeting people where they're at ... the services they need at the time they need it," O'Connor said. "That's they key of what this paper's asking for."

O'Connor said if those mental health needs go unmet for too long, then people will turn to acute care such as the emergency room. 

Acute care is short-term help, but some of the people who seek it out have chronic conditions and mental health problems which require long-term care, according to O'Connor..

"They spend some time in the inpatient units under acute care and then they're released with nothing much to support them after," O'Connor said.

The province said the Saskatchewan Health Authority is meeting its wait time goals for the most part. The money being spent this year includes initiatives on reducing wait times and increasing supports for those in need, the provincial spokesperson said.


  • A previous version of the story incorrectly said the government was budgeting $11.4 million for mental health services. The government is providing an additional $11.4 million in funding compared to last year.
    Sep 18, 2018 2:57 PM CT

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition


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