Well-planned mental health investments will help long-term

Posted on March 8, 2017 in Health Debates

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Reimagining a more effective, responsive mental health system will require long-term investments in a range of services, from prevention and early intervention to access to psychotherapy and community-based services
March 8, 2017.   By MICHAEL WILSON

As former minister of finance, I understand the weighty responsibility of allocating funds, and the fine balance between addressing pressing issues of the day, and sowing the seeds for future prosperity.

When I first joined the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) as board chair, our work was contributing to an important dialogue around the need for increased mental health funding. For the first time in decades, this reality is materializing, as the federal government targets funding to mental health in the new health accord.

However, as Drs. Goldbloom and Gratzer recently emphasized in their eloquent and persuasive article (“Money yes — But Mental Health Needs a Plan,” Globe and Mail, Jan. 25 2017), achieving successful outcomes from these investments will greatly depend on the choice of careful, thoughtful implementation strategies. Crucial to this effort are the road maps laid out inChanging Directions, Changings Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada, and the 13 provincial and territorial mental health and addictions strategies.

The MHCC’s newest report, released on Tuesday, Strengthening the Case for Investing in Canada’s Mental Health System: Economic Considerations, reinforces how investing in evidence-based services and mental health programs can provide long-term cost savings and better outcomes.

As policy-makers, health-care administrators and elected officials seek to make difficult decisions about where to invest money in mental health programs and services, Strengthening the Case can help guide their choices.

Reimagining a more effective, responsive mental health system will require long-term investments in a range of services, from prevention and early intervention to access to psychotherapy and community-based services. Thus far, the response to the federal commitment is heartening, with many provinces and territories allocating funds to areas with the largest payoff.

Consider the benefits of providing collaborative care to a person on short-term disability for a mental health concern. Care providers from different specialties, disciplines, or sectors working together to offer cohesive client services and supports can translate to 16 fewer days absent.

Given that mental health problems account for approximately 30 per cent of short and long-term disability claims, three extra weeks on the payroll equates to major cost savings, as well as increased productivity.

Equally compelling are the savings associated with making psychotherapies more widely available, which can save two dollars down the road, for every dollar invested today.

While the need to invest is no longer in dispute, there are few organizations with the capacity and platform to answer the pressing question of where those new dollars will have the greatest impact, both in terms of improved outcomes and return on investment.

The examples outlined in Strengthening the Case are neither prescriptive nor inflexible. In fact, they largely reflect the priorities laid out in the various provincial, territorial and national addictions and mental health strategies — with the added benefit of a projected return on investment.

Strengthening the Case, as its name suggests, isn’t a reinvention of the wheel. Rather, it’s designed to help give decision makers added momentum.

Michael Wilson, a former federal cabinet minister, is chairman of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and chairman of Barclays Capital Canada Inc.


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