LETTER: Canada needs to spend more on mental health

One in five Canadians suffer from mental illness. In comparison one in 15 live with heart disease and one in 25 have type two diabetes. Mental illness costs the Canadian economy $5 billion annually or $1,400 per Canadian.

Mental health is so costly to society because it often strikes the young and becomes a lifelong struggle. Approximately 900,000 youths between the age of 13 and 19 have been diagnosed with mental illness – the same number as there are inhabitants of Ottawa.

In 2015 Canada spent, 7.2 per cent of its health care budget on mental health and in 2017 it was announced that an additional $5 billion would be spent over 10 years. However, Canada will still fall short of the minimum nine per cent of health care funding recommended by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. By comparison, England spends 13 per cent.

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Can an already strained health care system afford to spend extra resources on mental health? Fortunately, many mental health initiatives are proven to be effective and save more money than they cost. For example, “Ontario’s Better Beginnings for Better Futures” program which targets youths is calculated to save $4 for every three spent.

Psychotherapy is estimated to save approximately $2 for every dollar spent. Counseling of suicidal youths has been shown to reduce emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Often the cost of housing the mentally ill who are in need of permanent residences is held up as unrealistically expensive. However, providing housing can reduce hospital stays and the need for other services. Often this results in savings that are far greater than the cost of providing housing.

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In addition to savings in the health care system, there would be other benefits to the Canadian economy that would offset the cost of increased spending on mental health. Relatives who have left employment to care for sick family members could return to the workforce. Some who suffer from mental illness may find themselves well enough to seek employment rather than be disabled. Employers would enjoy a more productive workforce with lower absenteeism and turnover. Not to be overlooked is the savings to the justice system, an expense not included in the 50 billion cost estimate to the Canadian economy, where sadly many mentally ill end up.

Clearly, failure to invest in mental health is not a result of there being no proven treatments. Nor is it because of unrealistic costs. Rather, it is a lack of will to make it a priority.

Paul Campbell

Saanich

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