Turning mental health promises in #elxn44 into action

  • National Newswatch

At age 63, Bill has attempted to take his own life eight times.Even before the pandemic, the Saskatchewan resident's lifeline was his community mental health nurse, who helped him navigate the ups and downs of ongoing depression and financial troubles.“In most places in Canada, community mental health nurses just don't exist,” he explains. “There are countless people that just slip through the cracks.”From Fiona in Whitehorse, to Juanna in Halifax, to Jillian in Toronto, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has heard the struggles of those trying to find mental health support. Access is further restricted by long wait times, remote locations, housing or substance use issues.So many young people around the country can't get the help they need because it's not geared to their cultural needs. Others simply can't afford to pay.We are asked all the time: when will things actually change in my community? For my mom? For my kid? For my neighbour? If they call for help, how soon will people be able to get it?This federal election has been a major turning point in the public discourse on mental health. For the first time, all major parties have put forward major policy pronouncements on funding and access for mental health care.Federal parties are also acknowledging the deep connections between mental wellbeing and the social determinants of health — jobs that don't pay the bills, lack of access to housing or proper education, no clean water to drink at home, systemic racial discrimination, and more.At CMHA's recent all-party panel on mental health, we heard about the billions of dollars promised. There are concrete policy proposals on the table.The Liberals would bring in a Canada Mental Health Transfer, with $4.5 billion promised over five years to the provinces. Conservatives made mental health a pillar of their platform, promising $60 billion of health spending over 10 years for provinces and territories in the hopes that they spend a significant portion on mental health. The NDP wants to provide mental health care at no cost for everyone who needs it. The Green Party seeks to renegotiate the Canada Health Act to expand coverage for mental health services. The Bloc Québécois wants to tackle the issue through increased health transfers to the provinces.Never before have we seen this much focus on mental health during a federal campaign.With just days to go before a new government takes shape, we at CMHA remain hopeful that the focus will last well beyond election day.We've waited for generations to improve our mental health system. It has been one of the most discussed policy issues throughout this pandemic and yet, Canadians continue to have to wait long periods of time or pay out of pocket to access mental health services, while others have been unable to access services altogether.This election should make it clearer than ever: we need free mental health care and we need it now. Canadians deserve nothing less than a mental health care system that takes care of everyone, no matter what, no matter where, no matter who.No matter what happens on September 20, we want newly elected members of parliament to come together within the first 100 days to turn election commitments into action. We need them to immediately declare mental health as a national priority and get right to work to fix our mental health system once and for all.If parliamentarians are willing to work across party lines on turning promises into policy, Canadians like Bill, Fiona, Juanna, Jillian, and countless others will be able to get the help they need, when they need it.Margaret Eaton is National CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association