Real issue for election campaign [mental health]
TheStar.com – opinion/editorial
Published On Sat Sep 17 2011
Ontario’s leading mental health and addictions organizations have put aside their differences and banded together to try and vault the desperate need for more services onto the election agenda. We should all wish them the greatest of luck. This is exactly the sort of multi-faceted issue that our political leaders should be talking about.
Undiagnosed and inadequately treated mental illness and addiction costs Ontario billions a year in increased health-care costs and lost productivity. Children cannot succeed in school, adults lose their jobs, families are destroyed and lives are cut short. One in five Ontarians will experience a mental illness or addiction. Add in their family and friends and that means most voters will be affected by this one issue.
But it’s not an issue that lends itself to catchy slogans in a political leader’s stump speech or easy attack ads against their opponents. It is complicated and there are few easy fixes. That is why, unfortunately, the Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance will have a tough time drawing the same kind of attention that a much smaller issue — employment assistance for new Canadians — got during the first week of the campaign.
What is a surprise, though, is that only the Liberals included a commitment to increase mental health services, particularly for children, in their election platform. The Progressive Conservatives made a passing reference to the need for “patient-centred” reforms on a variety of health-care concerns. The New Democrats said nothing.
Most Ontarians with mental illnesses don’t get appropriate and timely care because there aren’t enough hospital beds, programs and community supports. Even when people are well again, they won’t remain so without access to housing and proper supports. Surely voters have a right to hear how all parties plan to ease the human suffering and economic waste of all this.
The alliance, made up of groups more used to competing with each other for limited funds, has made an important step to advocate with one voice during this election. But the problems with Ontario’s mental health services are decades in the making. They can’t possibly be fixed in the next three weeks. If the alliance can manage to extract some assurances from all parties that they’ll stop treating mental health as the distant and poorer cousin of the rest of our health-care system, that will certainly be a useful start.
But the alliance can’t melt away when the polls close on Oct 6. It should stay united and hold the next government to account.
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