OPINION: The time for action is now: Mental health in Ontario can no longer be on the back burner


The mental health crisis in Canada — Ontario included — is nothing new.

And yet, the lack of adequate action from the provincial government is shocking.

For years, psychologists and mental health advocacy groups have been calling for more action and more funding in this sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought even more attention to the crisis. Statistics from mental health organizations and Statistics Canada in the earlier stages of the pandemic were especially alarming, with half of Canadians reporting that their mental health was worsening, more young adults being susceptible to severe anxiety, depression and binge drinking. The data also indicates there’s been a significant rise in the number of people visiting emergency rooms for reasons relating to mental health.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, to know that 70 per cent of Ontarians believed a mental health crisis was underway, even back in April.

Like it or not, everyone continues to be impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

A more recent study by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reported a fifth of adult Canadians reported seeking professional help to cope with their mental health during the pandemic.

I am part of this statistic.

As someone who has dealt with anxiety prior to the pandemic, it worsened — so much so that I began to feel depressed.

I was trying my best to maintain my well-being. I have been using coping techniques such as talking about my mental health with loved ones. I have been doing cognitive behavioural therapy, which was suggested from a government-funded mental health app. I tried spending more time taking care of myself, like eating right, exercising right, and sleeping well.

When I realized I needed professional counselling, I felt overwhelmed in doing my own research, as I was already trying to handle working two part-time jobs, freelance projects, and attending school virtually, which is full-time.

I was fortunate enough to have a friend who helped me research the best mental health workers that would help my needs and whose fees accommodated my income and the insurance plan offered by my school.

I still haven’t found the professional help that I need. But in spite of being on waiting lists and getting delayed responses from mental health workers, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.

Mental health counselling is expensive. I am lucky that I can afford a school plan that can cover fragments of the average fee.

I am also lucky enough to have the tools, like a laptop with relatively stable wifi connection to help me do my own research in finding professional help and learn about various coping mechanisms.

The unfortunate reality is that many people in Canada are not in as privileged of a position as I am.

Knowing this, I am weary of the lack of adequate funding and action from the Ontario government.

Yes, the government has responded in some ways. Premier Doug Ford announced back in July that he would invest $3.8 billion over 10 years to develop more comprehensive mental health services in Ontario. More recently, the provincial government announced “an additional $176 million this year to help expand access for critical mental health and addictions supports during COVID-19.”

While these are significant first steps, I believe this action should have taken place prior to the pandemic, when mental health was already a crisis. But more steps need to be taken.

We have seen the studies and the statistics. We know that the mental health crisis has been prevalent for a while. This pandemic exposed just how serious of an issue this is.

We cannot waste more time. We need to act now.