May 3, 2021
Mental Health Week is being recognized from May 3-9 this year and for many Canadians the event holds even more significance than usual given the heavy and ongoing toll exacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of us continue to struggle amidst increasing COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations, tighter public health measures and a slow vaccine roll-out. Essential workers – from healthcare workers to warehouse staff – have dealt daily for more than a year with the added stress of possibly being exposed to the virus at work and the fear of bringing it home, especially as a third wave rages in many regions of Canada.
This Mental Health Week, HealthCareCAN recognizes and celebrates the countless individuals that work every day to support people dealing with mental health challenges, provide mental health services to Canadians, and conduct important research to promote mental health and treat mental illness. We also acknowledge the healthcare workers, frontline staff and Canadians across the country who are dealing with mental health challenges.
HealthCareCAN continues to work to improve mental health supports for Canadians through our government advocacy, professional development programs and by co-leading the Quality Mental Health Care Network. This network is a pan-Canadian effort uniting health sector leaders dedicated to addressing access to quality mental health services, structural stigma, and promoting recovery-oriented practice.
A recent survey done by HealthCareCAN member the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health highlights the challenge. More than a year into the pandemic, one in five Canadians surveyed report high levels of mental distress, with levels of anxiety, depressive symptoms and loneliness remaining nearly as high as in late May 2020.
The 2021 federal budget presented on April 19 sought to address these challenges with nearly $1 billion over five years earmarked for mental health initiatives. The budget targeted funding for programs such as the Wellness Together Canada portal that provides access to e-mental health supports, the development of national mental health standards, and the creation of a three-digit suicide prevention crisis hotline.
Importantly, part of the federal funding will support innovative mental health interventions, including trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder streams of mental health programming for groups most impacted by COVID-19, including healthcare workers, frontline workers, older adults, youth, Indigenous people, Black Canadians and people of colour.
The mental health funding outlined in Budget 2021 is desperately needed and has been applauded by many experts and advocates, including HealthCareCAN. It addresses some of the urgent, short-term problems exacerbated by the pandemic and starts to lay the groundwork for a more cohesive and comprehensive national approach to mental health. But it only scratches the surface in terms of the investments needed to tackle the mental health crisis in Canada and develop a system that truly serves Canadians’ mental health needs.
Mental health services have been chronically underfunded in Canada and existing services have largely emerged in response to crises and focus on providing acute care to people experiencing severe mental illness. COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated that mental health is just as important as physical health and requires a more strategic approach with well-funded policies and programs in place to detect and address issues before they become crises.
HealthCareCAN urges the federal government and members of Parliament (MPs) to continue working toward creating a more comprehensive mental health system in Canada. This includes:
- Ensuring that research dollars go toward mental health research to develop innovative approaches to prevent, identify and treat mental illness as well as to promote mental health and wellbeing among Canadians. Academic healthcare organizations – like research institutes – be able to apply directly and independently for this funding to advance their ground-breaking work in this field.
- Increasing health transfers to the provinces and territories so they can improve mental health services for Canadians.
The federal government and MPs must also work with their provincial and territorial counterparts to address the underlying conditions that contribute to mental distress – many of which pre-date the pandemic – among Canada’s healthcare workforce.
Implementing a national health human resources strategy is one significant step that would help improve working conditions that lead to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout and create a more resilient and inclusive health workforce and system.
More work remains to be done to ensure all Canadians enjoy good mental health and wellbeing and can access mental health services when and where they need them. HealthCareCAN is committed to continuing to work with our members, partners and government to help make this a reality.
To learn more about Mental Health Week visit: https://mentalhealthweek.ca/.
Paul-Émile Cloutier, President & CEO
HealthCareCAN is the national voice of healthcare organizations and hospitals across Canada. We foster informed and continuous, results-oriented discovery and innovation across the continuum of healthcare.
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