Mental health issues overlooked in election campaign, say advocates

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Wednesday September 14, 2011

Theresa Boyle

Toronto Star

A coalition of leading Ontario mental health and addictions organizations is baffled that mental health issues are not on the radar in the provincial election.

“We would have liked to have seen more in the platforms dealing with mental health and addictions,” Gordon Floyd, spokesman for the Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance, told the Star’s editorial board Tuesday.

He noted that Tim Hudak’s Conservatives have made only passing reference to long wait times for mental health and addictions services in its platform. Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats have so far been “completely silent,” he charged. And the Liberals have only dedicated a page in their almost 60-page platform document to mental health and addiction issues.

The organization, which includes the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canadian Mental Health Association and Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, says it is morally and fiscally imperative that the issues get more attention.

Calling for more help for children and youth suffering from mental health problems, the alliance notes that 80 per cent of adults with mental health problems experienced their first symptoms before age 18.

The coalition is also calling on the creation of more supportive housing to help people with their recoveries.

Mental health and addiction problems are the top cause of workplace absenteeism, according to the alliance. And they are a top driver of soaring health-care costs.

Alliance representatives met with each party prior to the election in the hopes that these priorities would be adopted in campaign platforms.

To date, the Liberals have had the most to say, said Floyd, who is also executive director of Children’s Mental Health Ontario. The platform includes a vague pledge to invest in services with a “focus on kids” and then “focus on prevention, early identification and services for adults.”

“There are not clear statements from the opposition parties about what they would do,” he said, adding that he is particularly mystified that the NDP have so far been mum.

Mary Alberti of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario lamented that mental health issues don’t get the same level of attention as physical health problems such as cancer and AIDS and suspects stigma is the reason.

“We are not going to take it anymore and we need to be vocal about it,” she said, calling on Ontarians to go to all-candidates’ debates and grill politicians about the need for more services.

The alliance has set up a special election website that outlines how voters can get more involved: