Toronto — Last week, the government of Ontario, Canada, released a “Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy." Part of the strategy includes a revised 2011 budget that commits an additional investment of $257 million over three years for child and youth mental health. Support targets three key areas: fast access to high-quality services, early identification and support, and helping vulnerable kids with unique needs. Key investments include:
- Placing mental health workers and nurses with mental health expertise in schools—benefitting over 9,000 kids—and giving educators, social workers and other professionals tools and training to identify mental health issues early on.
- Providing more services such as short-term therapy and crisis intervention in community agencies to help 13,000 more kids and reduce wait lists.
- Expanding telepsychiatry (video counseling) services to rural, remote and underserved communities to provide more kids with consultations with child psychiatrists.
- Providing culturally appropriate services to 4,000 more Aboriginal kids by hiring new Aboriginal mental health workers.
- Keeping 2,300 youth out of the justice system by adding more mental health court workers who can refer them, instead, to community-based services, such as clinical counseling.
- Helping more than 16,000 youth transitioning from secondary to post-secondary school by adding more mental health workers on campuses in colleges and universities.
According to a release, the strategy will create a more coordinated and responsive mental health system, focused on building awareness and support by reducing stigma and discrimination, identifying problems and intervening early, and delivering more high-quality and timely supports. The government will also develop performance measures for publicly reporting wait times, client experiences and health outcomes. The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) welcomed the government's strategy, with Glenna Raymond, President and CEO, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, and Chair of the OHA's Mental Health and Addiction Provincial Leadership Council, expressing her appreciation for "the attention that government is giving to mental health and addictions."
"We are pleased to see that [the strategy] addresses care across an individual's lifespan, with an immediate focus on children and youth," said Raymond. "Mental healthcare is not possible without the contributions of many stakeholders. Only through the combined efforts of government branches, working with providers, community partners and consumers can we improve access for all Ontarians touched by mental illness."
The OHA also commented on the number of its recommendations that were included in the strategy, such as the development and implementation of a wait-time strategy for children and youth mental health services; a strengthened role for family health care teams in providing mental health and addiction services; and a targeted funding increase to help community services respond more quickly to children and youth mental health issues.
In addition, the OHA "strongly supports" the government's plan to expand tele-psychiatry to provide enhanced access to mental health services for children and youth in rural and remote communities.
According to Tom Closson, OHA President and CEO, Ontario's mental health and addictions hospitals provide "a range of specialized clinical services in both hospital and community settings."
"They are committed to supporting this strategy, and to working with stakeholders from across sectors to ensure our children and youth receive timely access to high quality, integrated services," Closson said. "We look forward to providing input and advice on the strategy to the government and its Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Council, once it is established."
According to a statement released by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the actions that will flow from the new strategy will “help improve the mental health of people across Ontario.” The release of the strategy, entitled "Open Minds, Healthy Minds" fulfils commitments made by the Ontario government as part of its 2011 budget. "In March, we were pleased to see the province's commitment to children and youth. The release of Open Minds, Healthy Minds places this commitment within the context of a comprehensive, integrated strategy to address mental health and addictions in Ontario," said Louise Bradley, MHCC President and CEO. The strategy is a "major step forward,” according to MHCC Chair Michael Kirby,” who said he is pleased to see Ontario adopt an "all-of-government" approach to mental health and addictions, “given the number of departments with a role to play in improving the mental health of Ontarians.” “I'm also pleased to see the comprehensive nature of the strategy," said Kirby, "which focuses on areas like children and youth, the workplace, stigma reduction and the training of first responders."