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Ontario Residents Struggle with Inadequate Mental Health Care

 

It is no secret that Ontario has been lacking in adequate funding for mental health care, leaving many residents struggling to get by and often living on edge, wondering what the future holds for them and their loved ones. As people with mental health issues go for prolonged periods without proper treatment, their illnesses progress just as any other, which can lead to criminal charges, injuries, and even death.

This a growing concern and a topic explored in a recent paper entitled “The Mentally Ill: How They Became Enmeshed in the Criminal Justice System and How We Might Get Them Out.” The paper, written by Justice Richard D. Schneider, outlines the problems faced by people with mental illnesses and how this leads them down the path to ending up in jail when they otherwise would not be there.

Schneider, who presided over the mental health court in Toronto, has stressed that the fault lies with the Ontario Mental Health Act and its provisions for involuntary treatment. The legislation bars individuals from being hospitalized without their consent, which is worrisome as many individuals with mental illnesses do not realize it. Mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances in a person’s brain, leading to altered moods, changes in behavior, impaired judgment, and more.

More severe illnesses even cause visual and auditory hallucinations, which cause the person to lose the ability to distinguish between what is and is not real. Knowing this, it is understandable that many are concerned about the prospect of leaving health care choices up to someone who is incapable of making such important decisions. If someone is severely ill physically and unable to make decisions about their own health, then the decisions are made by loved ones. Many Ontarians are insistent that such allowances should be made for them so that their loved ones can get the care they need.

Despite an ability to hospitalize individuals without their consent, there are no such restrictions on dealing with them in the criminal justice system. If a mother tries to seek help for her mentally-ill adult son who denies needing assistance, she is turned away. If she does manage to convince them that her son is need of help, the odds are that he will end up being discharged soon after, without getting proper treatment. If he then goes home and causes a domestic dispute that escalates to violence, he will end up being incarcerated.

 

 

According to Schneider, the individual will end up receiving the necessary treatment once they are in the criminal justice system. After receiving proper treatment and improving to the point that he is able to understand and participate in proceedings, he will face the court, where the judge will rule that he was not criminally responsible at the time of the offence due to his mental health state. He will then be sentenced to treatment. However, Schneider states that treatment in the forensic system is costly compared to that of the civil system. The space allocated to a single forensic patient would be suited for the treatment of 20 individuals outside of the criminal justice system.

Furthermore, providing adequate treatment at the first sign of trouble is vital in preventing worsening systems and keeping the individual from making mistakes that cannot be fixed. Many cases of extreme violence, including those that result in deaths, could be prevented if the individual had received treatment earlier. Whether the lack of treatment stems from legislation that prohibits involuntary hospitalizations, underfunding, lack of education about signs and severity of mental illnesses, or all of the above, it is a growing problem that needs to be addressed.

Louise Bradley, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, has stated that Canada has the lowest level of mental health funding among all developed countries. “There have been some gains, but funding will remain around eight per cent, while other countries are at 12 to 14 per cent,” she said. “People are on wait lists for up to 18 months in some cases.”

Bradley has recommended that multiple methods be implemented, as doing the same things will only reap the same results. “One of the ways is through e-mental health, or virtual care, and through utilizing all of the resources available. Studies have shown virtual care is as good or even better than in-person sessions for mild to moderate cases.”

Ann Marie MacDonald, Executive Direct and Chief Executive Officer of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, agrees with Bradley’s assertion that the future of mental health care is online. “Connect to people and their families where they are through virtual care,” said MacDonald. “The workplace can be isolating, and having a portal to access information and care is very therapeutic. Employees need to access supports quickly.”

 

 

Janice Kaffer, CEO of Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, discussed the chronic underfunding of mental health care for youths, saying, “Children’s mental health services haven’t seen a real base increase in funding in well over a decade across the province of Ontario.” She added that stagnant funding results in necessary services being cut to the bare minimum, resulting in extended wait times for treatment.

Ontario will go to the polls in June, and the Liberal government is expected to deliver a budget in the coming months. Organizations like Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare and other organizations made the case to increase funding at pre-budget consultations in Windsor on Thursday, and a round-table discussion of mental health is set to take place once the election has been called.

The Canadian Mental Health Association called for Ontarians to sign a petition intended to inform candidates on the issue and show them how important it is to citizens across the province. According to CMHA’s website, “For the first time in a long time, there’s widespread acceptance about the urgent need for quality mental health and addiction services.”

The call for signatures reads: “Now is the time for all Ontarians who have been touched by mental health or addictions issues to make their voice heard. Join us in letting provincial candidates know that it’s time to #erasethedifference and fund mental health and addictions care the same as physical health care.”

 

 

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