By MPP Toby Barrett

Health Canada recently announced it will provide Ontario with an additional $4.2 billion in health funding. Of those funds, $2.3 billion is for better home care and homecare infrastructure requirements. The remainder, $1.9 billion, is for mental health initiatives.

The Official Opposition has asked the Wynne government to match the funding; however, both Ontario’s government and third party have rejected the idea. Sadly, this will keep Ontario in a mental health crisis. Here’s why.

As the number of children suffering from mental illness increases, so does the cost. Children’s mental health centres across the province are underfunded and have been for years. This means services and treatment become harder and harder to receive, as the balance between demand and availability become further and further apart.

Families in desperation seek help in the emergency rooms of local hospitals — another costly move. Hospitals are not necessarily equipped for these visits. Over the past 10 years, children’s visits to emergency rooms and the rate of hospitalization have increased over 60 per cent. This costs government millions of dollars, and is not as effective as the much lower cost treatment of community-based children’s mental health centres.

One in five people will experience mental illness this year. The majority of people treated in an Ontario emergency room after a suicide attempt do not see a psychiatrist within six months.

Of all children who try to access mental health treatment, more than 40 per cent are unable to access the treatment they need. With statistics like these, how can government not see the benefits of investing to address this issue?

We hear how this government has invested millions of dollars, but that money has not gone to frontline care. While thirty-nine cents of every dollar went to CCACs – the Community Care Access Centres —  the base funding at direct treatment centres was frozen.

This government continually talks about the money they have invested, but there are no measured results. If anything, the apparent results have been increased bureaucracy. We have gone from five assistant deputy ministers to over 20 assistant deputy ministers. Our bureaucracies in the LHINs – the Local Health Integration Networks — have grown to 84 sub-LHINS.

The substantial increase shows that we are not doing enough. How can you deny the children who are our future the proper care they need to help fight mental health issues?

Teachers and trustees in our local communities are also raising concern over the growing mental health crisis in our schools. There is agreement the growing mental health needs of students is the most significant challenge in our schools and communities today.

Students suffering from mental health issues need a comprehensive approach to mental health services and programs. It is time for Ontario to replace fragmented mental health services with a better-coordinated approach that helps our most vulnerable, particularly students. It is time the mental health issues in the classroom and beyond get the same attention and prioritization as physical health

The federal government made a 10-year, $1.9 billion commitment to mental health in Ontario as part of their most recent health transfer agreement with the province.

It is now time to match that federal commitment.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk