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Not long ago, I published an inside look at our disjointed and underfunded mental health care system. I concluded that mental health care in Canada is generally inadequate, poorly coordinated, thinly stretched, and ineffective in tackling our growing mental health crisis.

The incidence of mental illness and substance abuse is rising in Canada. Canadians are now facing a mental health epidemic. The socio-economic burden of mental illness and addiction is becoming increasingly clear, and governments are feeling pressured to come up with solutions. The truth is, there is no quick fix to our mental health crisis.

What I’m proposing is nothing new. We need a multi-pronged approach, requiring the collaborative efforts of governments, health authorities, and mental health organizations.

Key to recovery are supports. Of the various supports needed to recover from mental illness and addiction, housing tops the list. Without housing, recovery is improbable.

Housing is critical to receiving continuity of care. In the absence of housing, it is unlikely individuals will be able to comply with their treatment regimens, nor will they be able to take full advantage of accessible mental health programs and services. Attending follow-up appointments and meetings, complying with prescribed medications, and participating in group and individual counselling are essential to any successful recovery.

To an individual living with a severe mental health challenge, housing means security and stability – both of which are important to one’s recovery. And yet, there is a lack of social and supported housing units across Canada. As our mental health crisis grows and draws more public attention, governments will undoubtedly begin to recognize the value of housing, and prioritize funding for social and supported accommodations.

Second to housing, as far as supports go, are accessible programs and services. Those familiar with the mental health care system know that these mental health supports are scattered, disunited, and difficult to access.

Programs and services such as transitional housing, ACT (Assertive Community Treatment), EPI (Early Psychosis Intervention), counselling, vocational and occupational therapy, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, are vital to resolving our mental health crisis.  Many are unaware that these supports exist. Worse still, these programs and services are typically overwhelmed with caseloads, and those in need of urgent care must sit on long wait lists.  It is up to government and health care officials to ensure all Canadians living with mental health challenges have access to the help they need.

The final prong of my proposal demands an increase to the disability income allowance. A source of income provides those who cannot work with the capacity to fulfill basic needs and care for themselves.  Unfortunately, disability income assistance has not kept up with inflation and the rising cost of living. Too often, recipients are forced to survive hand to mouth.  Social workers are seeing clients spend the majority of their checks on housing and transportation, with little money left for food and other basic living necessities.

There are systemic flaws in our mental health care system. The various branches of government and health care are fragmented. As a result, there are gaping cracks in our mental health care system. It will take coordinated efforts to ensure our system’s cracks are filled.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. Decision-makers will undoubtedly need time implementing plans to contain our growing mental health crisis. As stated, my proposal is nothing new. Plans to expand social and supported housing, improve the accessibility of mental health programs and services, and raise the disability income allowance, are already in the pipeline. But it is up to us, as mental health consumers, to nudge the process along.

They say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Many of us have found ourselves, at some point, fighting the mental health care system and social services departments.  Let’s come to a truce, and regroup as members of the mental health movement. I wouldn’t be where I am today without supports, so I’ll be damned if I’m not going to do my part to help fix a very flawed system of care. Let’s get loud – so our voices, united, can be heard.  Only then will true change be possible.

About Andrew Woods

Having been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and OCD at the age of seventeen (while attending the University of Victoria), my struggle with mental illness has been a full spectrum experience. I have made much progress since my last hospitalization (three and a half years ago). I returned to university, eventually earning a degree in Economics and a diploma in Business Administration. Today, I have aspirations of following a career in writing and communications. Currently, I spend my time as a mental health volunteer, working as a mental health navigator, exhibitor and communications support volunteer.

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