New report asks why Canadian jurisdictions under fund mental health despite significant social and economic costs

Author: Steve Lurie

(Monday, August 18, 2014) – In spite of ongoing concerns about the staggering social and economic costs of mental illness, funding in Canada and Ontario pales in comparison to other global jurisdictions, according to a new report authored by a Toronto mental health expert.

In Why Can’t Canada Spend More on Mental Health, author and longtime mental health advocate Steve Lurie, Executive Director of Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto Branch, lays out the tale of chronic underfunding of mental health services and offers remedies to fix the imbalance.

mental health
Comparative per capita new investments in mental health: Ontario compared with Canada, Australia, UK, NZ.

The research paper, published online in Health, states that in 2011 Canadian per capita investments in mental health was $5.22, far lower than investments in the United Kingdom ($62.22), Australia ($98.13) and New Zealand ($198.93).

Lurie states that Canada, unlike jurisdictions such as Australia, does not earmark a portion of federal transfer payments directly to mental health. And that might make a difference when you consider Ontario’s share of transfer payments between 2005 and 2011 increased by $2.9 billion, but only $220 million was invested to expand community mental health services.

“Why is a high-income country like Canada and its provinces falling behind other jurisdictions by woefully under-funding mental health care?” asks Lurie, whose experience in Ontario’s mental health sector spans 39 years. “Improving access to mental health services and supports such as supportive housing, through the establishment of a mental health transition fund was recommended eight years ago by Senators Kirby and Keon in their report Out of the Shadows at Last. Unfortunately we have failed to act on those recommendations, even though these types of investments have been shown to reduce health and social costs.”

The study points out the substantial gap between the burden caused by mental disorders and the resources available to treat and prevent them, with Canada a prime example.

The indirect costs of mental health issues to the Canadian economy are $50 billion per year. The cumulative costs to the national economy over the next three decades are pegged at $2.5 trillion. In Ontario, the burden of mental health and addictions is estimated at more than 1.5 times of all cancers and more than seven times that of infectious diseases.

The author recommends acting upon the Mental Health Strategy for Canada, created by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The Strategy includes increasing the mental health share of the health and social services budgets at the national and provincial levels in order to fix the deficit in mental health care and supportive housing.

For more, read the full report, Why Can’t Canada Spend More on Mental Health, and the Executive Summary

About CMHA Toronto:

CMHA Toronto is the largest community-based mental health agency in Canada providing a range of services to individuals living with serious mental health issues, helping them to live, work and belong in our community. We also provide information and education on mental health issues, and advocate for policies that lead to improved quality of life for those living with mental health problems, their families and our community.

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