Health Minister Christine Elliott announces $20M investment in cognitive therapy

Ontario is creating a central agency to oversee its revamp of the province's mental health services, but some say the new funding won't address the need.

Money won't be enough to cover entire province, health-care CEOs say

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced the $20-million boost to cognitive therapy programs Tuesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario is creating a central agency to oversee its revamp of the province's mental health services.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says the creation of the Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence will help build a co-ordinated treatment system.

She says the centre will standardize and monitor the quality of services across the province, likening its work to that of Cancer Care Ontario.

The centre is part of the province's mental health and addictions plan announced today, which Elliott says will cut wait times and improve services.

She says the province will also provide access to cognitive behavioural therapy designed to treat people struggling with anxiety or depression.

That program will cost $20 million when it launches this spring and aims to treat 80,000 people in its first year.

The spending is part of the $3.8 billion previously announced by the Ontario government for mental health and addiction services over the next decade.

Where will the money be spent?

It's expected the $20 million will be used to expand psychotherapy pilot projects now operating out of four Ontario mental-health facilities: Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby, The Royal in Ottawa and Penetanguishene's Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.

"It is something that is badly needed," said Karim Mamdani, president and CEO of the Ontario Shores Centre. 

"This is the first time something like this is being offered as a publicly funded program. Often people deny themselves access to mental health therapy because of a cost barrier."

The goal is to provide cognitive behaviour therapy, or talk therapy, to people with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorders and other issues when the program is fully implemented over the next decade. 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto is one of four facilities that are running cognitive therapy pilot projects. The $20 million will help expand those programs. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The health ministry also plans to create an 811-number people can call to get help for mental health issues.

Mamdani says the funding is a good first step, but won't be enough to cover the entire province.

"It will ensure the services that are currently provided at the four pilot project centres will continue to be delivered, but we will have to figure out the scope and spread over time." 

Ontario Shores receives about $5 million a year to run the pilot project, which serves over 2,300 people.

The talk therapy program also includes a pilot for children and youth to begin 2021.  

For Kim Moran, the CEO of Children's Mental Health Ontario, the plan falls short.

"It doesn't at all address the inequity in services.  And only addresses one form of treatment that kids and families need right now," Moran said, adding that 28,000 children and youth are now waiting for mental health services.

She says a much larger investment in front-line professionals could help clear the backlog.

"The wait for a child that needs mental health care is at an all-time high," said Moran. 

With files from The Canadian Press


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