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CMHA Budget 2022 pre-budget consultations: appearance before FINA Committee

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Thank you Chair.

Hello, my name is Margaret Eaton, I am the National CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, or CMHA.  

CMHA is the most established, most extensive community mental health organization in Canada. Founded in 1918 during the Spanish flu pandemic, we have 330 community locations across every province and the Yukon. We reach over 1.3 million people each year and employ more than 7,000 Canadians.

CMHAs are independently governed charities that deliver mental health supports, free of cost to anyone who needs them. From counseling and psychotherapy, substance use treatment and youth programs, to housing and employment services, CMHAs keep people out of hospitals by promoting mental health and helping to prevent mental illnesses.

As we know, our country is suffering from epidemic levels of poor mental health and mental illness.  Each week, 500,000 people miss work due to a mental health problem. Today in Canada, 11 people will die by suicide. By age forty, 1 in 2 Canadians will have or have had a mental illness  – that’s half the people in this committee room – yet only 1 out of every 15 healthcare dollars goes to mental health. For those who can afford it, this forces people in Canada to spend more than a billion dollars per year on counselling and other mental health services, and costs our economy tens of billions of dollars per year in lost productivity.

We all know that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the mental health of Canadians with 41% reporting a decline in mental health since the pandemic began. It has also hit the community mental health sector hard where the phones have been ringing off the hook for the last two years with more Canadians needing help. Our Branches rapidly overhauled how they deliver their services to keep vital programs alive and accessible providing cell phones and laptops to clients to ensure they could maintain connection. When people with severe mental illnesses lost their housing, CMHA Branches provided emergency shelter – some even purchasing tents when there were no other options.We are so proud that we were able to continue delivering – for example across our 29 branches in Ontario, CMHA maintained 96% of its service delivery throughout the pandemic.

Our Branches have strained to meet the rising demand for mental health supports but the needs continue to rise.

And while there have been significant investments in community mental health since the pandemic began, it’s not nearly enough. Our country has chosen band-aid solutions to what is fundamentally a broken, woefully underfunded mental health system. 

Now let me tell you about the possible.

Making meaningful progress on mental health requires federal leadership. We believe Canada needs a pandemic recovery plan that invests directly in community mental health— not only to treat Canadians with mental illnesses where they live, but also to prevent mental health crises in the first place.

In addition to this recovery plan, at CMHA, we believe Budget 2022 must address three critical areas:

The first is urgent investment in community mental health. We’re calling for a direct investment of $57 million for core CMHA programs and services. This would, for example,  allow us to reach 10,000 more front-line workers at risk of anxiety, PTSD, depression and suicide, and support the mental health of an additional 10,000 people through our Well-being Learning Centres.

The second area addresses the housing crisis, which disproportionately affects people with mental illness. We are calling for a direct investment in 50,000 supportive housing units and 300,000 deeply affordable non-market, co-op and non-profit housing to make sure people with mental illness and substance use problems have safe places to live as they recover.

Thirdly we recommend a substantial increase in funding for Indigenous-led mental health initiatives including doubling the budget of the Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiative. Resources and decision-making must be in the hands of Indigenous-led mental health organizations, and we stand ready to support their leadership.

From a budget perspective, these recommendations make good financial sense. Mental health supports keep people connected to their communities, save taxpayer dollars and reduce the burden on the already heavily-strained healthcare system.

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

Thank you.