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 "No Political Payoff" 
The Real Reason Queen's Park Doesn't Move On 
       Mental Health: Critic       



By Justin Schmitz


The Bloor Street viaduct, a massive five-lane bridge spanning Toronto's Don River valley, was once the second most lethal structure in North America. It was the site of almost 500 suicides by 2003. At its peak, someone jumped to their death from the bridge once every 22 days on average.

In an effort to stem the suicidal plunges, in 1998 Toronto's city council approved the construction of a so-called "luminous veil" rising from the sidewalk railings of the bridge - a series of thin but impenetrable iron wires that would prevent Torontonians from jumping into the valley. Completed in 2003, it cost the city $5.5 million dollars.

As of 2014, the suicide rate in Ontario remained largely unchanged.

The luminous veil is testament to the fact that attempting to deal with suicide and depression in the province with what critics say are band aid solutions, without addressing its citizens underlying mental health needs, has proven to be largely ineffective.

So the question remains: where can Ontarians turn when they are staring into the abyss of mental illness?

Hospital emergency rooms, clinics, family doctors, psychiatrists - all of these can seem overwhelming and beyond the immediate reach when someone is so despondent they have already committed to the idea of taking their own life.

And immediacy is key.

Suicide hotlines — the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) being the largest in Ontario — attempt to provide immediate help.  

The hotline is staffed by employees of a regional branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association  (CMHA).

 

  


According to the Ontario government, more than one million people in the province suffer from depression.

But sometimes culture and ethnicity can serve as a barrier between Ontarians and the mental health treatment they need.

Aboriginal communities in particular, according to the international Emergency Medicine Journal, suffer from a higher suicide rate — two to seven times higher — than other communities in the province. 

Sylvia Maracle from the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) talks about mental health trends in urban aboriginal communities, and what changes need to be made to Ontario’s mental health care system: 


 


The entire mental health field is one that critics say needs a lot more attention from the Ontario government than it has been getting.

According to the Canadian institute for Health information, Ontario spent approximately $81 billion on health care in 2014. The Mental Health Commission of Canada states that, on average Ontario dedicates 5% of it’s health care spending to mental health, or in this case $4 billion. That's much lower than the national average of 7%.

The Liberal government this week allocated $12 million for brain research into depression by the Ontario Brain Institute, which will be leveraged to $18 million when contributions from the Institute's partners are included. 

Still, politicians on all sides say they are concerned, and that mental health services are lacking resources. A bi-patisan legislative committee - the Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions in Ontario -  outlined a host of problems facing the province's mental health system in its 2010 report.

Based on information provided by the province's community organizations, including the CMHA and OFIFC, one recommendation was a bigger role for community organizations in providing counselling and follow-up programs for patients who have already been treated in hospitals or mental health institutions. This would take pressure off emergency wards when patients need follow-up treatment, it reasoned.

To do that, the Committee's report recommended there be an umbrella organization to oversee the entire mental health and addictions treatment process, including the involvement of community organizations.

Conservative mental health critic Christine Elliott, who co-chaired the Committee, believes the public is interested in these issues but her NDP counterpart France Gelinas thinks the Liberal government isn't moving because there's no political payoff to helping the mentally ill:

 



Ms. Gelinas is hopeful that because the current health minister is himself a doctor, Eric Hoskins will be more sensitive to the needs of the mentally ill than his predecessors.

Minister Hoskins declined to be interviewed for this piece.

The real question is, will governments lead the way to increased, meaningful mental health care, or in tight economic times, simply rely on band aids, building more and more suicide barriers like the luminous veil.

Posted date : January 29, 2015
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