Our sympathies lie with Kit Skelly’s parents who have described their family’s struggle with schizophrenia (Pulling The Shroud Off Schizophrenia – March 16). Families often describe their difficulties finding services for their loved ones. In Kit’s case it is unfortunate that he was not connected with programs that are part of Toronto’s early psychosis network. Early psychosis intervention has been shown to lessen family burden and demonstrate good outcomes in terms of school, work, family relationships and symptom reduction. Efforts are under way to improve access to services in Toronto, but we need to do more to ensure people are able to access community mental health services. There are currently 5,500 people on the waiting list for supportive housing in Toronto, and wait times for other community services can be six months or more. We need to focus on the deficit in mental-health care and increase the mental-health share of health spending to make sure more families are able to get the help they need and deserve.
Steve Lurie, executive director, CMHA Toronto Branch
It is gratifying that one of the first acts of Premier Wynne’s government was to pick up the funding for the Mental Commission’s homelessness project which is helping 240 people living with mental illness and addiction problems avoid homelessness. Research from the project has shown that for every $2 spent on heavy users of mental health services, $3 is saved. However much more needs to be done to reduce homelessness among people living with mental illness. The waiting list in Toronto for supportive housing is over 5500 and some people have been waiting 10 years for housing. Let’s hope this is a down payment on future investments in supportive housing.
Dr. Simpson identifies the barriers to accessing mental health care in the community as well as the justice system. Regrettably, the Ashley Smith case is also a manifestation of our failure to provide adequate funding for mental health services. Dr. Heather Stuart argues in her book on stigma, Paradigms Lost, that lack of funding for mental health services is evidence of stigma and discrimination against people living with mental illness. Most of the $41 billion in health care investments since 2004 has not gone to mental health services. Of the $16 billion invested in Ontario between 2004 and 2011, only $220 million went to expansion of community mental health services and $50 million of this was targeted for services for people involved in the justice system.
Long Way to Go
The Globe is correct in asserting that we have a long way to go to improve mental health services for young people, if we want to reduce youth suicide. Only one in six youth with mental health problems get any care, and wait times for assessments can be 18 months or more. Up to 70% of adults with serious mental health illness experience problems when they are young.
December 12, 2012
CMHA Toronto ED Steve Lurie appears on TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” to discuss Housing the Mentally Ill. To view the episode Click Here
In late November, about 150 Bank of Montreal employees volunteered with CMHA Toronto, packing gifts for the 2012 Holiday Gift Program. Handling approximately 40,000 items and working together to count and assemble them into 5000 gift packages, the BMO staff helped the program ensure that Torontonians living with mental illness would be provided with hope and belonging during this holiday season.
Dr. Stuart’s reasoning that celebrity disclosures about their experiences with mental illness can have a positive impact reducing stigma makes sense. However there is a larger problem. Despite increased public focus on mental illness and stigma in recent years, the mental health share of health spending has been declining steadily since 1979. Even though there is increasing evidence about effective treatment and community support, only one in three people are able to get the services they need. A recent report by ICES shows that the burden of mental illness is 1.5x that of cancer and 7x the burden of infectious disease. We need to end discrimination against people living with mental illness and ensure access to the services they need. To view the article Click Here
In the 1999 Winko decision the Supreme Court of Canada held that unless there is a significant threat to public safety people who are found not criminally responsible cannot be kept in custody and must be granted an absolute discharge. Moreover the Court said the reason for keeping people in custody is to offer treatment, not punishment. Since the Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue, the federal government should focus their attention to improving mental health services in their correctional facilities and the community so that offenders living with mental illness who are not in the forensic mental health system get the services they need to reduce risks to public safety. To view the article Click Here
The death of Ashley Smith is our canary in the coal mine, representing our continuing failure to invest in mental health services, and reduce seclusion and restraint. Correctional investigator Howard Sapers reports that 30 similar deaths have occurred in federal correctional facilities since he launched his investigation. Only one in six children are able to access mental health care when they need it, and wait times can be up to 18 months. Despite all the rhetoric and reports about improving mental health services since 1979, the mental health share of health spending has declined by more than 40 per cent in Ontario. While other countries, such as Australia, have invested $147 per capita to improve mental health services, our investments have ranged from $5 to $16 per capita. The inquiry should be mandated to shine a light on systemic issues, including prevention, treatment and follow-up across the country. Governments must ensure that having a mental illness in a correctional facility does not continue to result in premature death and suffering. To view the article Click Here