Spotlight on Solutions: Mental Health
Spotlight on Solutions is our recurring blog post that cuts through the partisan spin in favour of positive, pragmatic and solutions-oriented politics.
January can be a difficult month for many Albertans. It’s a time when mental health challenges can reach a peak. And while we are becoming more and more aware of the importance of addressing mental health problems, far too often, we see people talk about the importance of mental health supports while doing nothing to help those dealing with mental health issues.
We must act and act intelligently and compassionately.
Here are four key proposals to turn talk into action:
Seventy per cent of adults with mental illness had recognizable signs in childhood that were inadequately assessed and treated. Addressing mental health starts with helping our children. Doing so not only makes their lives better but reduces the long-term health costs associated with unaddressed mental health problems.
COVID-19 and the “Echo Pandemic”
It’s no secret that the pandemic and public health measures have created new mental health challenges and exacerbated old ones. As a result, experts warn of an “echo pandemic” of mental health problems like anxiety and depression. In fact, 23% of Canadians now say they’re depressed. Tackling these problems will take more effort than a slight funding increase in the healthcare budget or hiring some temporary support workers for a few months.
In the short term, Alberta needs to increase funding for services like psychotherapy and counselling as well as allocate funds specifically for services focussing on the most vulnerable individuals with acute mental health issues. However, we must also formulate a long-term strategy by creating a COVID-19 Mental Health Task Force. This Task Force should be charged with creating a multi-year plan for addressing the mental health impacts of COVID-19.
We need to:
Increase funding for services like psychotherapy and counselling
Allocate funds specifically for services focussing on high-risk individuals with acute mental health issues
Formulate a long-term strategy by creating a COVID-19 Mental Health Task Force. This Task Force should be charged with creating a multi-year plan for addressing the mental health impacts of COVID-19.
Integrated Mental Health/Primary Health/Community Support
We often hear the message “mental health is health”. It is increasingly accepted that our mental health and bodily health are inextricably linked, yet our healthcare system does not reflect this. Healthcare models need to reflect that mental healthcare is health care.
We can vastly improve Albertans' quality of life by making mental health supports more accessible through our primary care networks and increasing the coordination between primary care providers and mental health specialists. In addition, we can further integrate primary healthcare with social and community-based services such as peer support. Mental health can no longer be an afterthought.
Of course, all of these strategies only work if we tackle the biggest problem of all: the underfunding of mental health services. Estimates of mental health spending in Alberta put it at 6% of our healthcare budget. That is one third lower than the 9% recommendation of the Canada Mental Health Commission.
Addressing this funding gap is critical to our quality of life. Inadequate funding of mental health services damages the economy and creates substantial downstream healthcare costs while straining the province’s justice system. This is one area where Alberta can’t afford to skimp on spending. It is an investment in our collective future and a better quality of life for all Albertans.
These are just four solutions that an Alberta Liberal Government would implement right away that would immediately impact mental health services and outcomes.
That’s it for this week’s Spotlight on Solutions. If you want a more solutions-oriented approach to Alberta politics, make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to share your policy thoughts or get involved in our policy process, reach out to us at [email protected]
If you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Learn what resources are available to you at the Alberta Health Services website here.