What provincial parties are promising when it comes to mental health treatment

The need for better mental health services has been highlighted, especially during the pandemic. Maleeha Sheikh speaks to each political party ahead of the election on what changes they are promising if elected.

By Maleeha Sheikh and John Marchesan

Health experts say the pandemic has taken a toll on Ontarians’ mental health, putting additional strain on already limited resources. Now with election day just over two weeks ago, party leaders are pledging to do more to help those in need.

The head of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Ontario division says while she’s glad to see where the political parties stand when it comes to mental health, there are still a lot of questions.

“We have a lot more people who need service than we have capacity to serve and unfortunately that’s been the case before the pandemic and I think the pandemic really exacerbated that fact,” Camille Quenneville tells CityNews. “What’s a little worrisome is the specificity around what they plan to do. My colleagues across the province haven’t had an increase to their base budget, the ability to manage their operations, in several years.”

The Ontario NDP have promised to establish universal mental health coverage so Ontarians can use their OHIP card instead of their credit card.

The NDP say they plan to invest $130 million over three years in children’s mental health, boost funding to Canadian Mental Health Association branches by eight per cent, and invest $10 million more in mobile crisis services, among other invitiatives.

“Prevention is key. Many people who need a therapy treatment need to get it early and we want to ensure that we are expanding psychotherapy services to be included in our mental health care plan, cognitive behavioural therapy which we know many kids need access to,” said Bhutila Karpoche, NDP candidate for Parkdale-High Park.

PROMISE TRACKER: What the Ontario parties are pitching on the campaign trail

The Liberals have also promised big investments, to the tune of $3 billion while also expanding OHIP coverage.

“We’re also going to make it possible for workers to have access to a portable workplace benefit that they can use to access mental health services no matter where they work,” says Toronto Centre Liberal candidate David Morris. “We’re committing to hiring 1,000 more mental health workers in schools to help our kids and to give them the support they need to recover from the difficulty that these last two years have been for them.”

The Green Party is promising to build 60,000 supportive homes with wraparound mental health and addiction services over 10 years, as well as getting more services covered under OHIP.

“Expand services that are available through OHIP so people can afford to get the care they need when and where they need it,” said party leader Mike Schreiner. “Secondly, a firm financial commitment to reduce youth wait times to access mental health services. Right now 28,000 young people are on a wait list that’s an average of 18 months long and can be as long as two-and-a-half years.”

Quenneville says while getting OHIP to cover more mental health services sounds great, she’s uncertain how it will all work.

“I think there needs to be a fair bit of understanding of what it actually looks like and where the other individuals would begin to perform the services and where they would come from because we don’t really have a lot of people who are skilled to provide the services yet.”

The Ontario PC party tell CityNews their plan includes $3.8 billion towards addressing the mental health and addiction needs of all Ontarians, $204 million in net new annualized funding to expand services, which includes funding for four new mobile mental health clinics to serve remote, rural and unserved or under-served regions, as well as $132 million in pandemic funding for mental health and addictions services.

Quenneville points out Bill 124 is also problematic because it caps salaries for many healthcare workers. She also wants to see higher paying jobs within the mental health sector in order to recruit and retain staff.

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