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CMHA appears before House of Commons Standing Committee on Health

On March 23, 2022, CMHA’s National CEO, Margaret Eaton appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health to discuss the emergency situation facing Canadians in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Thank you so much.

Hello. I’m Margaret Eaton and I’m the national CEO of the CMHA. The CMHA is the most extensive community mental health network in Canada, founded in 1918. We have 330 community locations in 10 provinces and the Yukon territory. We reach over 1.3 million people each year and we employ 7,000 Canadians.

CMHAs are independently governed charities that deliver free mental health supports to anyone who needs them, from counselling and psychotherapy, substance use treatment and youth programs, to housing and employment services. CMHAs keep people out of hospitals by intervening early to promote mental health and prevent mental illness.

Our recent research shows that most Canadians worry that COVID will never go away: 64% of Canadians are worried about new variants and 57% are worried about COVID-19 circulating in the population for years to come. The chronic stress of dealing with the pandemic is taking its toll. It makes basic decisions harder, it saps our energy and it leaves people tired and burned out.

As you know, we’ve all been in the same storm for the past two years, but we haven’t all been in the same boat. Forty per cent of Canadians say their mental health has declined since the onset of the pandemic, and this spikes in vulnerable groups, such as those who are unemployed due to COVID-19, those who had a pre-existing mental health condition, people who identify as LGBTQ2+, young people, people with a disability and people who are indigenous. Vulnerable people have experienced much worse mental health over the last two years.

These significant inequities have made it impossible to ignore the long-standing service gaps and systemic barriers in our mental health system. Our research shows that almost one in five Canadians felt they needed help with their mental health during the pandemic, but they didn’t receive it because they didn’t know how or where to get it, there was no help available or they couldn’t afford to pay for it.

Millions of Canadians rely on free mental health and addiction services and supports provided by the not-for-profit sector, but these organizations are strained to the breaking point. Community and mental health care workers receive lower wages, have higher work demands, experience compassion fatigue and are more likely to experience burnout than other health care workers.

Despite these difficult conditions, they have creatively and compassionately met people’s needs. When there was no housing available and food banks were closed, CMHAs purchased tents and had food boxes delivered. Some CMHAs called their entire wait-lists to see how people were doing and offer whatever supports they could. Some launched new crisis lines and chat services to give isolated people a friendly conversation and a wellness check-in.

However, this emergency mode isn’t sustainable, either for our staff or for our clients, who need stable, long-term help.

Two years in, we’ve moved from crisis to chronic. Even if the immediate impacts of COVID-19 are subsiding, the mental health effects persist and will likely continue for years to come. The community mental health and addiction sector cannot meet these growing needs with the current patchwork funding and disjointed service delivery model. It’s time to overhaul our mental health system.

CMHA calls on the federal government to do these four things: one, establish long-term and stable federal funding for key programs, services and supports delivered by the community mental health sector; two, invest in mental health promotion and mental illness prevention programs and strategies; three, publicly fund community-based counselling and psychotherapy; four, invest in housing, income supports and food security.

We must integrate community mental health services into the health care system, and we must ensure that provinces and territories are held accountable for how federal funds for mental health are spent.

We have a critical window of opportunity to transform Canada’s mental health system. Let’s not miss it.

Thank you.”

Read the full meeting transcript here.