Mental health is a part of overall health, just as physical health is. Using the term ‘mental health’ is useful in identifying issues of the psyche as being somewhat distinct from issues of the body, and therefore as requiring specific forms of care that cannot be encompassed by assessing the body primarily. However, this distinction can inadvertently lead to people’s conceptualizing mental health issues as somehow less real or less important than issues that affect the body. Mind and body are bound up with one another in this thing we call health, and viewing mental health issues as being any less worthy of attention than physical health issues has created problems in our conceptualization of health.
In Canada, we are fortunate to have a publicly funded healthcare system. Though our healthcare system is not perfect, it is comforting to know that if you were to break a leg, or suffer from a heart attack, you’d be able to get medical attention without having to worry about exorbitant bills.
If you are suffering from a debilitating mental illness, like depression, suicidality, an eating disorder, or psychosis, you can shell out the thousands of dollars required to seek help from the private system, or you can put yourself on a lengthy wait list in order to receive care from the public system. The lack of adequate funding allocated to mental healthcare in Canada means that publicly-funded mental healthcare services are few and far between, with long waits for access.
This creates a discrepancy in accessibility to efficient and effective mental healthcare in Canada. If you have enough money to pay the fees for private psychological services (sometimes upwards of $200 an hour), you can receive the help you need. However, if you do not have the funds, you are put on a wait list (oftentimes months long) in order to receive care.
Many mental health issues have their genesis in childhood and adolescence and early intervention is crucial in catching a mental illness and stopping it in its tracks. Being put on a wait list of even a few months can be extremely detrimental at this stage as the mental illness, unaddressed, runs its course.
We need to make a commitment to treating mental health issues as seriously as we do all other health issues and allocate appropriate funding. In the long term, it makes economic sense to do so. Mental health issues cost the government and public billions of dollars – an estimated $50 billion per year. Part of the reason why this number is so high is because unaddressed mental health issues lead to people needing to take leaves from their workplaces, which leads to lost productivity and economic growth. Furthermore, people who don’t have their mental health issues addressed are far more likely to end up as inpatients in hospitals, where keeping someone in a bed costs thousands of dollars a day.
We live in a country where those in need can receive care for their physical health issues when they need it. This is something that we can feel proud of as Canadians, because it reflects the philosophy that every human life is worthy of care, regardless of class or socioeconomic position. Physical health is but one part of the overall picture. Mind, body, spirit – it’s all connected, and it’s all a part of overall health. Care for mental health issues is a vital service that should be funded.
Arts Program Co-ordinator
EDOYR’s Riverwalk Wellness Centres