Latimer: Mental health spending in Canada

Columnist says our country falling short in supporting mental health wellness programs.

As our federal government works toward creating the next budget, it seems a good time to look at what the experts tell us regarding Canada’s investment in mental health and how we compare with other similar countries.

A recent summary put out by the Canadian Mental Health Commission examined provincial and national mental health investment in Canada compared with the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

As I have written in previous columns, mental illness is a significant health issue in Canada. Current estimates suggest that by age 40, half of all Canadians will have experienced a mental illness.  Mental illness costs our economy $50 billion per year in direct and indirect costs and that number is projected to balloon to $2.5 trillion over the next 30 years.

In Ontario the burden of mental health and addictions is 1.5 times that of all cancers and more than seven times that of infectious disease.

In spite of this, mental health has traditionally garnered a very small percentage of health care dollars and focus. In 2011, Canadian investment in mental health represented approximately $5.22 per capita – compared with $187.51 in total health care.

You may be surprised to learn that our investment in mental health is considerably less than the other countries included in this study – with the UK spending $62.22 per capita, Australia $98.13 and New Zealand a whopping $198.93.

Provincially, we allocate an average of just over seven percent of health care funds to mental health.

The Mental Health Commission recommends several ways we can improve our investment in mental health care.

First, they suggest a continued increase in community mental health services. The Commission also recommends raising average provincial mental health spending to nine percent across the country.

In order to address some common issues facing those living with mental illness, the Comnission also suggests increasing social spending by two percent to improve affordable housing, employment and income support. These improvements could go a long way to helping people in crisis.

With a fairly modest investment in improving mental health care, we could significantly reduce the burden mental illness places on individuals, families, our health care system and society at large.

With access to appropriate care and support services, we would see significant reduction in hospital admissions and fewer mentally ill people populating our prisons and homeless shelters.

Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.

250-862-8141

dr@okanaganclinicaltrials.com

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