Federal government needs to do its part to fund mental health care programs

Mental health care funding

The federal government needs to do more to provide better mental health supports.

That sentence really could have ended in so many different ways. Last month, I wrote about how, after 30 years of abandoning housing investments, the feds need to get back into the housing game. Before that, it was childcare, and before that how we need a national wildfire fighting force.

Despite record investments by the Province of B.C. across many social portfolios, the multiple crises we’re facing rely so heavily on the federal government waking up to the needs of everyday Canadians.

Mental health care is health care. But I consistently hear concerns that there needs to be better mental health care in Canada. Indeed, if Canadians could easily and affordably access better mental health supports, it would not only be life-changing for so many, but the benefits would be seen throughout struggling sectors such as health care, education, addiction and our criminal justice system.

In B.C., it is estimated that one in five interactions with police involve someone with a mental health disorder.

Suffering from mental health or addiction struggles is not a crime and should not be treated as such. For me, that is what is at the heart of the Car 40 Program, announced for Penticton this past summer. The program, more formally known as the Mobile Integrated Crisis Response, is an innovative provincial program where specialized crisis-response teams pair a police officer with a health-care professional to better respond to mental-health calls made to the police. Teams provide on-site emotional and mental-health assessments, crisis intervention and referrals to appropriate services in the community.

In Penticton, the program is built on partnerships including city hall, the local RCMP detachment and Interior Health. The teams help free up police resources to focus on crime, while at the same time ensure vulnerable people in crisis because of mental health challenges are met with compassion and appropriate care.

The program has had very good feedback in several large cities in B.C. and was expanded to include Penticton, Vernon, and seven other smaller centres this summer. In total, the province will add $3 million to its Safer Communities Action Plan to support the program.

So where is the federal government on doing its part, as promised?

Along with my colleague Gord Johns, the NDP mental health and harm reduction critic, we have been urging the government to keep its promises about the Canada Mental Health Transfer. Still, there is no funding in sight and no specific or measurable funds have been provided for community mental health and substance use treatment.

People's lives are on the line and they shouldn’t have to rely on our overcrowded emergency rooms or first responders as a primary resource for help. With 35 per cent of Canadians experiencing severe mental health issues it’s unconscionable to hold back on health funding.

Again, mental health care is health care. No one should have to decide between filling their fridge or getting the quality health care they need. But unfortunately, Canadians have to make tough choices. That’s why people were expecting (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau to include real mental health supports in his government’s new health care agreement with the provinces and territories. But Canadians have, yet again, been disappointed.

The government needs to do everything possible to reduce barriers people face when they reach out for help. New Democrats are urging the government to stop delaying and increase mental health spending to expand access to care, reduce strain on emergency rooms and policing, reduce the high costs of services for patients, and put supports in place to fight Canada’s toxic drug crisis.

I commend the provincial and local governments who have rallied together for programs such as Car 40. We will keep fighting to make sure people suffering from mental health issues and substance use disorders also get the help they were promised from our federal government.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan – West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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