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6 reasons to work for mental health parity

One in five people will face a mental health problem in any given year [1] and yet mental health does not occupy the place it deserves in the public health system. Despite this alarming fact about the mental health of Canadians, mental health services are insufficient, inadequate and underfinanced. It should come, then, as no surprise that, every year, over 1.6 million Canadians report having mental health needs that go unmet.[2] Physical health and mental health need to be on equal footing.

Here are six reasons why health parity has to be a priority:

1. Mental health is an essential part of well-being.

As the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Constitution so eloquently defines it, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Mental health is an intrinsic part of well-being, just like physical and social health. In fact, they are complementary: you can’t have one without the others.

2. Mental health problems are on the rise.

Don’t take our word for it: listen to the World Health Organization. According to the WHO, by 2020 mental health problems will be the second leading cause of disability in the world. By that same year in Canada, they will be the leading cause.[3] This is without counting new immigrants who will grow the Canadian population, part of which is aging and at risk of developing mental health problems, in the context of a system that doesn’t meet current demand.

3. Canada’s universal health system is a fairly universal medical system.

The health system as it exists today publicly funds only treatments deemed medically necessary, which are generally available in a hospital or medical clinic. This means that all basic mental health care that is essential but not intensive, such as psychotherapy, counselling, treatment for addiction and peer support services, is not necessarily covered by the government. As a result, many people with chronic, complex mental health problems don’t receive the full range of services they need and often suffer what is called revolving door syndrome, which involves putting a band-aid on a more serious problem. This is why basic care, including non-intensive care, that can support and offer appropriate long-term care, has to be part of front-line health services and publicly funded.

 4. Access to the current system is uneven and complex.

To receive free care, you have to be in physical or psychological distress. Otherwise, you have to go to your family doctor…if you have one! Up to 80% of Canadians turn to their family doctor for mental health care, but the services are limited. While they can refer patients to specialized services, access to psychiatrists is wanting and the waiting times are long. Care is not offered when it is most needed,[4] something that is even more of a problem in disadvantaged socioeconomic settings.

5. Investing properly in mental health delivers savings for Canadians.

For every dollar invested in mental health, the public health system in Canada saves $2.[5] Investing in mental health doesn’t mean adding hospital beds; it means increasing spending on social programs so that the most vulnerable among us have access to support that will improve their well-being and allow them to contribute to their community. By investing enough in research, services, and care and adopting a public health approach to promotion and prevention in mental health – as we currently do for physical health – we will improve the well-being and mental health of the public.

6. Mental health is a right!

Universal health is the basis of the WHO Constitution (see point #1); it is a fundamental human right: “the right to health for all people means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship.”[6] Good mental health is a right, period.

To ensure that Canadian society is healthy and has the services and care it needs, the Canadian Mental Health Association is calling for legislation on parity in mental health, as detailed in a new policy document entitled “Mental Health in the Balance: Ending the Health Care Disparity in Canada.”

For more information about health equity, the Mental Health Parity Act and the measures proposed by the CMHA, consult our policy document at

[1] Mental Health in the Balance: Ending the Health Care Disparity in Canada, 2018.

[2] Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), 2012.

[3] Comprehensive mental health action plan 2013-2020, WHO, 2013.

[4] Idem.

[5] Idem.

[6] World Health Organization, 2018.