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Mental health parity: what is it?

You may have heard the term “mental health parity” in the media, and on the lips of mental health advocates. When the advocates call for parity, they are calling for equal funding for mental health care; equal, that is, with physical health care.

Here’s another way of understanding “mental health parity,” and why it’s important.

Say you break your ankle. You know what to do: you don’t walk on it. You head straight for the Emergency Department, there’d be an x-ray and a cast and you would hobble away on crutches, more or less all fixed up.

Now imagine you are experiencing a mental health crisis. Maybe you head for the Emergency Department, and maybe you get seen, and treated and then discharged. But maybe you’re not fixed up. Finding ongoing care, well, it isn’t as straightforward as a broken ankle: you might now be on a list to see a mental health professional. But maybe you wait months and months, or longer, to see someone, and then when you do, there’s just no psychotherapy or other interventions. Maybe you can’t afford whatever medication you’re prescribed.

That’s because when it becomes to providing mental health care, Canada is more than lagging. Lagging, it turns out, behind most Western countries.

Yet, there are almost seven million people in Canada who currently have a mental health problem or illness. Compare that to heart disease (1.4 million people) and diabetes (2.2 million people). If this is a universal health care system, shouldn’t we expect to get care for heart disease and diabetes AND for a mental illness?

Advocates and organizations like CMHA and CAMIMH (a broad-based coalition) are working hard to make parity a household word. And with the Federal Election around the corner, there’s no better time to demand it. Now’s the time to make things equal.

Read our paper on parity, Mental Health in the Balance: Ending the health care disparity in Canada here.