Citizens Demand Provincial Government Tackle Mental Health

By Yasmine Ghania

The Provincial Government is not doing enough for mental health.

At a town hall in Ottawa, over a dozen citizens spoke about the insufficient funding and poor access to mental health services that they have experienced in the province.

Photo by Yasmine Ghania

The keynote speaker for this town hall was Nik Nanos, the founder of Nanos Research, a public opinion and research company. A survey he had conducted found that one of the biggest concerns for Ontarians is mental health care, or the lack thereof. When referring to the current Ontario mental health system, Nanos said it intervenes too late, only helping people when they are in critical mental conditions.

“Talking about it is a good first step, but it’s not enough. It takes more than just tragedies, it takes a politician. There has to be ferocious advocacy and there has to be someone willing to take on that cause.”

In regards to the upcoming Provincial elections, Nanos believes that there needs to be a political party that is willing to change this system and to give aid to people who have been disadvantaged by the existing system.

Nanos is not the only one who feels this way. At the town hall, Brianna Moore also spoke about the need for Ontarians to access better mental health services. Moore is a National Chair of Canadians for Equitable Access to Depression Medication (CEADM), an organization that advocates for spreading awareness about depression medication and mental health services for all Canadians. At a very young age, Moore struggled with depression. On top of juggling school, work, and living on her own, she was also facing the challenge of paying for her depression medication. At the time, her medication was not covered by her Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) and so at certain times of her life, she was forced to periodically stop her medication without telling her doctor, simply because she couldn’t afford it. This caused her to have sudden breakdowns, acute stress, and experience more symptoms of depression.

Even though her current depression medication is covered under OHIP now, Moore explained how there are many innovative depression medications that are proven to better treat depression which are not covered by OHIP, and which she therefore does not have access to.

Moore is asking political parties to make these innovative medications accessible: “they need to be accessible so it’s not a choice between taking your medications or putting food on the table.”

CEADM is one of the several organizations that strive to shed light on the systemic issue of deficiency in mental health funding. Dave Gallson also spoke about the problem facing the current Provincial government. Gallson is the National Executive Director of Mood Disorders Society of Canada, a development program for people with mental health issues. During his speech, he explained how in 2017, seven million Canadians needed mental health care, but not all of them got the necessary care due to high costs. He went on to say that current politicians need to hear from individuals that are actually being affected by these high costs and the inefficient access to services. He also added that the Provincial government is in desperate need of policy changes: “People who live with depression know. We are experts. Put us at the table.”

John Fraser, the Liberal MPP of Ottawa South and Lyra Evans, the Ontario NDP candidate for Ottawa-Vanier responded to a few of the comments. Fraser shared a personal story about his daughter who suffered from an eating disorder for several years, highlighting the long waiting times and many facilities they had to visit before getting help, and the added stress that the experience gave to the whole family. He stated that the the Provincial government has a responsibility to the public when it comes to mental health care. Evans spoke about the substantive decrease in mental health funding and said “it’s time to demand change.”

While there was huge variety in the stories and tragedies told at the town hall, there was one common desire: a need for the Provincial Government to make changes to improve the mental health conditions for citizens.