Lobbying for better funding and services

May 4, 2017

Canada needs better programs for promoting mental health and for providing services and support for people living with mental illnesses. This section looks at changes needed and how lobbying can help improve mental health care:

  • A mental health care strategy for Canada
  • Better funding for mental health services
  • Better and more accessible services
  • Peer support organizations
  • Culturally appropriate services that respect social identity
  • Provincially funded psychotherapy
  • Specific funding for children and young people
  • More accessible information about mental health and mental health services
  • Better EI benefits for people with mental illness and caregivers
  • Better disability benefits and social assistance rates
  • Overhauled CPP disability benefits

A mental health care strategy for Canada

In 2012, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released its report Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada. This progressive report calls for greater funding, a more integrated approach to mental health care, and considers broader social factors like healthy workplaces and affordable housing.

Unfortunately, no Canadian government – federal, provincial or territorial – has moved to implement the recommendations of the commission. Adopting the strategy would make mental health a much bigger priority.

Many sections of the strategy overlap with demands unions are making for better mental health support and services.

Better funding for mental health services

Canada can do much more when it comes to funding mental health services.

Of the 35 countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada is one of the worst when it comes to the percentage of health care dollars allocated to mental health.

Most provinces and territories spend about 7 percent of their health care budget on mental health. The Mental Health Commission of Canada and many mental health advocacy groups feel that should be much higher—at least 9 percent. New Zealand, the UK, and Australia allocate more than 10 percent of their spending to mental health.

While health care is a provincial and territorial responsibility, there is still an important role for the federal government to play in funding its portion of healthcare costs. It also funds a significant portion of health care for Indigenous people, although not adequately or equally compared to non-Indigenous people. The need for urgent mental health funding for Indigenous communities is critical. 

Increasing federal contributions to the provinces and territories will allow them the flexibility to increase the mental health portion of their budgets. In late 2016 and early 2017, the federal government made agreements with most of the provinces and territories that would increase mental health funding.

There is, of course, much more to mental health care than money. But adequate funding makes it much easier to deliver programs and treatment for people with mental illnesses and to promote positive approaches to mental health.

Better and more accessible services

Mental health is not just an absence of mental illness. The Mental Health Commission of Canada calls it “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his own community.”

Mental illnesses and other mental health challenges can also have far-reaching effects beyond individual health and the health care system. Mental illness affects performance in school and in the workplace. It causes an enormous loss of productivity and puts a strain on social services and the criminal justice system. Mental health care, on the other hand, tends to be seen as separate from other branches of the health care and social service systems.

Making mental health a priority means putting a lot more money into mental health care, but also increasing the range of services available and coordinating policies and delivery of services. We must lobby for greater use of mental health courts, publicly-funded psychotherapy, expanded services for youth and equity seeking groups, more mental health services in schools and prisons, and the hiring and training of a diverse group of professionals to truly address Canada’s mental health crisis.