Mr. Speaker, on January 29, I asked the Minister of Health about directly funding community organizations providing mental health services and removing taxes on counselling as direct action we, as parliamentarians, can take for improving access to mental health services.
Before the pandemic, many Canadians were facing the reality of living with a mental illness. Now survey after survey finds Canadians’ mental health eroding as the pandemic continues. This is a crisis that will have a lasting impact on the lives of Canadians. In the last year, every time I asked a question of the minister regarding mental health, I was invited to check out the wellnesstogether.ca portal as an example of the work being done to help Canadians. I am very familiar with this resource and I know it can be valuable for some people, but we also need to acknowledge that we cannot fix everything with a virtual band-aid. These issues are complex and nuanced and an overreliance on websites in the digital format is not enough.
Mental health is not a luxury. It is a necessity. The mental health care system in Canada is not meeting people’s needs. Long wait-lists, inequity and underfunding are the root causes of the problem. Lengthy wait times are a barrier in part because there has been a chronic underfunding of community-based mental health services and a reliance on intensive high-cost services, like hospitals and acute care, and the consequences are life and death. Once patients finally make it onto a list to receive care, they can wait anywhere from six months to two years to see a counsellor. If they can afford it, they go to the private sector. It is a two-tier system that accentuates social inequalities and it clearly shows that lack of access to mental health is most pronounced in those with lower incomes or with disability. In Canada, only 7% of the health care budget is dedicated to mental health and behavioural health, while experts recommend it should be higher. My home province spends even less.
As members of the all-party mental health caucus, myself and other MPs are in search of solutions. We listen to organizations, stakeholders and people working on the ground to try to provide services the best they can. One of the ongoing challenges is always a lack of consistent funding. We need to ensure direct funding for organizations and communities across this country that have the solutions ready to deploy. Funding community-level interventions to alleviate pressure on our acute care system will get people the help they need as fast as possible. This is the very least we can do for the family of 16-year-old Lexi Daken, who was not helped after having waited for hours in the emergency room.
I want to take this moment to also honour Monique Paul from St. Mary’s First Nation. She was Wolastoqiyik, she was loved, she is still loved and missed every day. The impacts of suicide and mental illness are particularly hard hitting in indigenous communities. Intergenerational trauma and systemic racism have left a painful legacy. Every time someone is lost, especially a child or youth, the frustration and hurt are heavy, like a storm cloud hovering over the community.
Individuals cannot carry this burden alone. Communities cannot carry this burden alone. We need help, more help than a virtual portal can provide. It is time to lead, to build a better system that will truly be there for Canadians when they need it.
Mr. Speaker, there are tangible solutions, some of which are under way, and I recognize that. There is not only earmarked dedicated funding in the health transfers for mental health, but the recent commitment for the government to define and implement national standards for mental health care. I am grateful.
We also need to put mental health in the Canada Health Act and provide the provinces and territories with the help they need to do it well. Best practices can be shared, but ultimately Canadians need to be able to receive quality care regardless of where they live in this country. Mental illness is linked to many challenges we are facing collectively, and the longer an illness persists the more difficult it is to treat. Early intervention leads to better outcomes.
We know that every one dollar invested in mental health saves the health system two dollars. Beyond the monetary argument, our quality of life, safety and well-being can be greatly improved. We need access when and where people need it. I want all Canadians to know that if they are facing mental illness they are not alone. We will continue to advocate for better mental health services for all, every month of the year.