Ontario is giving $14.75 million in additional funding to support mental health initiatives, the government announced on World Suicide Prevention Day.
Doug Ford made the announcement Thursday at a nonprofit in Sudbury, Ont., where he highlighted the impact of the pandemic on front-line workers.
“We know this virus has had a wider impact. It shows itself through isolation, through burnout, through depression and anxiety,” Ford said. “Our front-line workers are not immune to it. Our young people are not immune to it.”
More than 1,900 health-care workers have accessed mental health and addiction supports since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the province’s news release.
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Seven million dollars in funding, given through the province’s Support for People and Jobs Fund, is earmarked to safely expand in-person mental health and addictions services.
Another portion of the funding, $4.75 million, will go toward “culturally safe services” for Indigenous communities with a focus on children and youth. An additional $3 million will expand online services, such as addictions support, virtual cognitive behavioural therapy and an online peer support community.
Martin Boucher, executive director of the Northern Initiative for Social Action nonprofit where the announcement was made, said his organization will use the funds to improve virtual service delivery and provide personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to ensure it’s safe for people to seek help in person.
The stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic have been complex, said Michael Tibollo, the province’s associate minister of mental health and addictions.
“We want Ontarians who need that extra help to have access to the high-quality supports they deserve,” he said.
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MPP Bhutila Karpoche, the NDP’s mental health and addictions critic, said she wants to see more funding put toward mental health, noting today’s announcement was less than the $330 million Ford previously cut in planned mental health funding.
“We need to do a lot more to make sure that everyone, but particularly children and youth, are getting timely access to care,” she told HuffPost.
She pointed to 2020 data from the Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) that shows 28,000 children and youth under the age of 18 are waiting for mental health and addiction services. While some can access same-day services, others may wait months — or even up to two-and-a-half years, according to CMHO.
Karpoche said she wants to see more investments in community-based services, as well as in areas that will support prevention of mental health issues, such as affordable housing.
She’s also urging the government to pass her private members’ bill that would cap wait times at 30 days when the legislature resumes next week.
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In March, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced the spring launch of a government-funded mental health program called Mindability, which would offer cognitive behavioural therapy for people who have anxiety or depression.
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Hayley Chazan, a former spokesperson for the ministry, told HuffPost in June that the program was available in several cities through partnerships with community organizations.
The ministry is currently working to expand the program, now called the Ontario Structured Psychotherapy program, to more locations, according to a spokesperson.
If they’re deemed “clinically appropriate” for the program, people can be referred to it by their primary care physician or access it on-site at over 80 hospital and community service providers in the areas where it’s currently available.
It is unclear whether any of the additional funding announced Thursday will go toward that program.