More mental health beds meet only part of need
In the shadow of its recent wave of funding cuts to programs and services across the province, one thing the ontario government has undoubtedly gotten right lately is the recognition that greater investment into mental health services is urgently needed.
The doug Ford government’s announcement at the end of december of 50 new mental health beds at 12 hospitals across ontario, and an investment of $3.8 billion over the next 10 years toward the development and implementation of a “comprehensive and connected mental health and addictions strategy” is encouraging for those facing long wait times for treatment.
however, it is critical for decisionmakers to keep in mind that reducing wait times by adding system capacity will not improve outcomes if the treatments that patients are receiving work only a fraction of the time.
In ontario (and Canada, at large), our available treatments for mental illness are inadequate for around 60 per cent of patients.
Through research and care, we are learning more and more that not all individuals diagnosed with the same mental health disorder respond to the same treatments. yet ohip still covers only a handful of therapeutic options.
For instance, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rtms) therapy is a non-invasive, non-drug brain stimulation therapy, proven to be highly effective in treating depression in those who have been resistant to other treatments — or for those who can’t (or won’t) take medications for a variety of reasons (such as pregnant moms).
In 2016, health Quality ontario recommended rtms be publicly funded for patients where electroconvulsive therapy is not an option.
however, more than 16 years after health Canada first approved rtms as a treatment for depression, it is still covered by provincial health insurance only in Quebec and saskatchewan. For those in ontario who respond to rtms, it remains a costly out-ofpocket treatment.
Through its new mental health strategy, the provincial government must direct funding toward effective alternative treatments such as rtms.
decision makers also need to ensure the development of innovative prevention and intervention strategies are key mental health priorities.
Being able to strategically intervene early and prevent mental illness would not only improve the life trajectory for many ontarians, but also have significant downstream benefits for the economy. (Currently, 500,000 Canadians don’t go to work each week because of depression.)
ground-breaking prevention tools are emerging through cutting-edge mental health research. For instance, a computer algorithm that harnesses artificial intelligence to identify and sort tweets by characteristics such as hopelessness or loneliness to predict suicide risk was developed earlier this year by dr. Zachary Kaminsky, a researcher at the royal’s Institute of Mental health research, but dedicated government support and investment is ultimately needed to roll out innovative tools like this on a large scale.
The reality is that we can’t improve mental health outcomes in our province just by improving physical access.
It is an encouraging first step to see the provincial government making a strong commitment to improving mental health.
now, if we are able to direct some of this $3.8 billion investment towards research and public funding of treatment alternatives, we can ensure that any new mental health resources that are being rolled out are effective — and in many cases, might even reduce the need for more hospital beds altogether.