Latimer: Health accord should address mental health

Capital News columnist Paul Latimer says more investment in health care needed to deal with mental health issues.

Paul Latimer

The possibility of a new Health Accord has received a lot of media attention in recent months.

A new federal government at the helm has spiked some optimism of improved communication between Ottawa and the provinces and territories and perhaps a new understanding on priorities.

Of course, these negotiations are tricky and there is a lot of money at stake. Recent meetings were derailed over discussions surrounding federal transfer payments and there are other details still to be determined.

Though it is a complex series of discussions to work through, I share in the hope expressed by the chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada – that our new acord include significant new investment to address the growing mental health needs in Canada.

The MHCC has worked hard over the past several years on a number of initiatives including drafting a mental health strategy and framework for action. Pilot projects with housing first initiatives and working to improve workplace mental health have also proven beneficial.

In order to move from these first steps toward measurable progress in how we treat mental health issues in Canada, we need to put a priority on taking action now.

Canada is a vast country with many isolated communities and this past year has tragically highlighted some of the consequences of a lack of access to mental health services in some of these communities.

The MHCC wants to expand the use of e-mental health in Canada so we can use technologies to tackle some of the challenges of serving rural and remote communities, First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations and reaching youth.

I have said many times that early intervention is key for many mental health conditions and the MHCC has also identified this as key to achieving better health outcomes for Canadians. We need to reach youth and improve the bridge between the youth and adult mental health systems.

Improving employment opportunities for those with serious mental health problems will also go a long way toward reducing the human and financial cost of mental illness.  The MHCC hopes to prove that social responsibility and economic pragmatism are not mutually exclusive – and we’ve already seen this with proactive affordable housing programs and workplace mental health initiatives.

The MHCC advocates viewing health care expenditures as an investment that can stimulate the economy in a number of ways – not least of which is through the creation of a healthier population.

In order to achieve these goals, we must put a renewed priority on mental health spending. This should not be an afterthought in our new Health Accord.

I wholeheartedly support the MHCC’s goals here and urge us all to raise the issue with provincial and federal government representatives to ensure our voices are heard as the ministers continue negotiations on the future of health care in Canada.

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

250-862-8141

dr@okanaganclinicaltrials.com