Mental health discussion deserved a more prominent position in Canada’s election

Accessible mental health care for Canadians should play a bigger role during election cycles

Canada needed more reassurance that the governing party following Monday’s election would fulfill the nation’s need for better mental health resources.

We are in a mental health crisis. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among children and young adults aged 10 to 29. LGBTTQ* youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. The rate of suicide among Indigenous people is at least three times higher than the suicide rate of non-Indigenous people.

The 2019 New Democratic Party (NDP) platform proposed including mental health services in Canada’s Medicare program to allow free access to such services for all Canadians. But it failed to reveal specific details on how it intended to implement this plan if elected.

If history is any indication, the party will stay true to its word.

NDP members of Parliament (MPs) have taken previous action in the House of Commons. In April 2018, NDP MP Charlie Angus proposed a motion calling on the federal government to build a national suicide prevention plan, which was voted in favour of by all parties.

The federal government is not required to act on private motions, so there is no certainty when or if this plan will be implemented.

The Liberal party has promised to boost health care funding by $6 billion over the course of four years to invest in services including mental health care. But the party has not specified how much of these funds will be allocated to mental health services, and, as of last year, Canada dedicated only 7.2 per cent of its health care budget to mental health under the Liberal government.

The Green party also made a lot of promises to reform Canada’s health care and promote mental health coverage. The party has pledged to expand the Canada Health Act to include more coverage of mental health and rehabilitation services and to increase support and funding for LGBTTQ* mental health programs. However, it did not propose any budget or timeline for implementing these changes during the campaign.

The Conservative party’s policy on mental health is essentially non-existent. The party did not make any major campaign promises regarding mental health except to reduce the number of hours required to be spent in therapy to qualify for the Disability Tax Credit.

It has advised that if elected, the hours required would drop from 14 to 10 hours per week. This is the most disappointing proposition made by any party thus far, given the fact that it does not even scratch the surface when it comes to tackling our nation’s mental health needs. It does not address any specific issues. This is a clear indication that mental health is not a priority.

There has been an obvious lack of discussion about the damaging stigma associated with mental health issues and how much this further contributes to mental illness.

Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh were the only candidates to bring light to this issue during this election cycle.

During their statements released on World Mental Health Day, they both addressed the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

With so many unclear and missing details regarding how our nation’s mental health care epidemic will be handled, it’s no wonder that — just three weeks before the election —  over 10 per cent of voters were still undecided.

Charitable campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk have helped bring awareness to mental health issues and allocate funding to relevant causes, but if the Canadian government had already implemented a better plan for managing these issues, the efforts of corporations would be irrelevant.

The limitations of this model are evident in the fact that Bell has had its share of accusations from its own employees regarding a lack of adequate mental health support.

Mental illness is not just a health issue, it’s an economic issue. Lack of adequate treatment for depression and anxiety costs Canada’s economy upwards of $49.6 billion annually. This is due to factors such as employee absenteeism and decreased productivity at work due to untreated or inadequately treated mental illness.

In order to keep our economy healthy, we must keep our citizens healthy.

Mental illness can affect anyone at any time, regardless of their background. As a country, we need to make sure that we are prepared when it does.