Ontario Announces Free Therapy for People With Anxiety or Depression

But with current wait times of 2.5 years for young people, mental health advocates say the province needs to provide more funding to treat severe mental health issues.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
March 4, 2020, 5:46pm
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The Ontario government is launching a new mental health program that will provide free therapy for people with anxiety or depression.

Mindability is part of the province’s new mental health strategy unveiled Tuesday and will launch in the spring, said the province’s minister of health, Christine Elliott.

“Through this groundbreaking program, an individual will receive an assessment from a trained mental health clinician and offered a therapy program that best addresses their level of need,” Elliott said.

Users will be able to sign up online, over the phone, or via text message. Patients will then be provided workbooks and online modules, group therapy, or one-on-one counselling. Elliott said patients will not incur any out-of-pocket costs.

Mindability will offer cognitive behavioural therapy for people struggling with anxiety and depression. Anyone with more acute illness will still need to seek out other medical avenues.

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Elliott said the program will cost about $20 million, and once fully implemented in three to four years, will serve 80,000 patients annually.

But mental health advocacy groups say the initiative won’t work without “substantial and immediate investment” to reduce wait times.

A 2020 CMHO report found that 28,000 youth and children are on wait lists for mental health services in Ontario, with an average wait time of 2.5 years.

A spokesperson with Children's Mental Health, Kathleen Powderley, told VICE that the project “only covers one form of treatment… There are 28,000 children and youth that need help now.”

CMH and other mental health groups acknowledged that Mindability “has potential,” but said the government also needs to fund support for people who face more severe mental health crises.

According to Ipsos, access to mental health services is the top-ranked medical priority overall among Ontarians, who believe children and youth should only wait up to two days for therapy, if they have to wait at all.

Elliott also announced a new agency, the Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence, which will assess and address problems associated with healthcare access, she said. Elliott did not say how much the new centre would cost.

The Progressive Conservatives have promised $1.9 billion in funding to improve mental health and addiction services over the next decade.

Doug Ford’s government has cut millions of dollars worth of mental health spending in the past, and axed former Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s promise of $2.1 billion in additional mental health services over four years.

In a joint statement, published by mental health advocacy groups, including the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario, advocates estimated that at least $380 million a year is needed to begin eliminating wait times.

“A 12-year-old with suicidal ideation needing intensive mental health services can’t wait for two years,” the joint statement said. “An 18-year-old man who has overdosed three times in the last month whose assessment points to a need for long-term residential addiction treatment can’t wait another 18 months.”

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