Free therapy in Ontario? I'm not convinced.

You may have heard about Ontario’s new “free therapy” program announced by the provincial government (conservatives) and Minister of Health, Christine Elliot. This sounds great, doesn’t it? And it is. Really, it’s good we’re *starting* to make some change like this when it comes to mental health care in the province. However, some (myself included) are still skeptical. Not to burst your bubble, but I just want us to all have an educated perspective on the matter and to approach this news critically. Yes, the headlines sound lovely. I, too, was super excited when I read them (especially amidst all the chaos going on in the world). But now, I am less impressed and a little less excited. I’ll share why.


This was announced a while ago, and I’ve been quiet about it and haven’t posted anything despite getting a few messages about it and posts about it over all the social networks. That’s because I’ve been doing my research and wanted to be as informed and educated about the topic as I could before I shared it. I wanted to be as excited as most people are, and didn’t want to be pessimistic or critical about it but I’m here to deliver the facts and want to break down this program and highlight why it’s not as lovely as it may seem at first glance.


Here’s more on the Mindability program launching in Ontario that seeks to deliver free CBT to individuals with depression and anxiety.


Current Problem:

- long wait times (average of 2.5 years for young people) of about 28,000 people on waitlists and expensive costs $$$ (about $150/hr for therapy) for therapy

- their ‘solution’: ON gov’t spending $20-million to increase publicly funded cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

- first of it’s kind for Ontario (it’s been seen in England, and Quebec has launched a pilot program of this sort as well)

- funded by OHIP

- free CBT online, by phone and in person to people over the age of 10, depending on their need

- this ‘spring 2020’: just self-directed manuals and telephone support from a therapist (NOT the full program)

- second launch: pilot for children and youth winter 2021 (not as soon as you think)

- aims to provide talk therapy to 80,000 people a year (over the next several years) [the population of Ontario: 14.5 million, prevalence of mental illness in one year: 1 in 5, approximate number of Ontarians with mental illness (per year): 2.9 million (based on statistics)]

- the program is called Mindability and will focus on changing unhealthy thoughts and behaviours, which is found to be effective in relatively quick doses

- can be referred by doctors or self-referral given workbooks and online modules, group therapy or one-on-one counselling with no out-of-pocket costs

- patients will be screened by a mental health clinical to determine what level of services they receive (stepped-care approach)

- for example: a patient with mild depression might get an online CBT course, someone in higher distress may receive face-to-face talk therapy in a group or up to 15 individual sessions

- patient outcomes will be measured to see how well it’s working

- there will be a provincial 811-number for some mental health services by the end of the year

- the program is for people with depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD and addictions

- can sign up online, over the phone or via text message hospital ‘hubs’ for these services: CAMH (Toronto), Ontario Shores (Whitby), The Royal (Ottawa), and Waypoint (Penetanguishene)

- pilot program results in ON: 5000 received talk therapy, data on 1500 patients shows a recovery rate of about 40%


Potential Problems:

- training enough therapists in CBT to run this program (still need more mental health professionals)

- wait times (hard to tackle this issue enough right away)

- people might not get the level of help they need (i.e. saying they can get online therapy, but they’d benefit from in-person therapy more)

- ensuring people in the program get access to social services (i.e. housing supports, employment counselling, etc.)

- will they be able to help the whole province/everyone who needs it?

- Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario estimated that at least $380 million a year is needed to begin eliminating wait times… this project is $20 million (do the math)

- people need help NOW, they shouldn’t have to wait or go through these complex systems and levels of care when they’re already in deep distress and are experiencing significant impairment

- this is SHORT-TERM and essentially a bandaid fix. while it for sure has the capacity to be helpful, it’s not a long term or sustainable solution for people with mental illness who require long-term therapy and mental health services


Note: the current mental health care budget by the Conservatives is $335 million less than the Liberals proposed, so it’s still a cut (do not be misled). “The government is trying to disguise cuts to front-line services” - another political party, of course. The provincial government is still doing other stuff that is not good and we don’t agree with (for example, PAY TEACHERS!!!). This money is also coming from federal grants. This isn’t meant to be a political statement though, just saying.


DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANYTHING ABOUT POLITICS


While this isn’t meant to be a political statement or anything, I will say this about the new Ontario “free therapy” announced by the conservative government and Ministry of Health.


First, I’ll credit the provincial government for doing this. Because, I guess they don’t have to. So, I’m at least glad they tried.


Second, I’ll say that this project is actually still a large budget cut to mental health care funding. If you want the #s: the Liberals proposed a budget of $2.1 billion for mental health care. The Conservatives made $335 million in cuts to mental health care. Let’s keep that in mind. Mental health advocacy groups and organizations, like the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario, estimated that in order to eliminate the problem of wait times and access to mental health care in ON, it would cost $380 million. This program is $20 million. It doesn’t take a math professor to recognize the discrepancy.


Third, mental health care is a HUGE problem in Ontario and most Ontarians (more than 3/4) have said that improving the mental health care system should be a government priority. While this is a step (a small one, we’ll add), more needs to be done. We can be thankful for this step having been taken, and I sure want to approach this with some optimism and hope and trust that many people in Ontario will be helped and access quality mental health care because of this program, but we need to recognize that there is so much more that needs to be done and this alone cannot erase all of the mental health problems in Ontario. It might help a little, and I hope it does. But we need more.


Finally, I will add that (although I am not an expert in politics, nor do I follow them much for anything other than mental health policy and education) I am still unsatisfied with the work of provincial politics in ON. Good job on this, I guess. I will applaud you for taking this step and trying to implement this change. But do better. Do more. We are in deep need of better mental health services and support and I definitely hope this helps a lot of people, but we need to help even more. It also needs to be long term and change at the system level (i.e. everyone having access to a therapist the same way we all have access to doctors and dentists and it’s all covered by OHIP and there are no out-of-pocket costs and it’s forever). Not to mention, cuts being made to education do NOT help the mental health landscape for youth at all. Education is very much tied to mental health outcomes, and the cuts by the provincial government will present a negative effect on the mental health of students as they go through a critical developmental stage. Just something to think about. Pay teachers and put more money into schools. This will very likely help decrease the number of young people that require mental health services due to poor mental health*


*to some degree. Of course not all can be prevented. But this sort of systematic change can help prevent the onset of some mental health problems, and early intervention can be made possible with better education and resources on school systems.


I apologize if you don’t want to hear about politics because there’s already a lot going on in the world and we don’t need to add more problems. So I hope you see the light in this and appreciate the step being taken by the government to provide mental health services to people in need. We’re allowed to be happy about it. I just also urge you to be critical and to expect more from your government, because we deserve more.


Hope this helps you feel more educated and informed about the topic. If you have any questions, leave a comment or DM us on Instagram @yourmindmattersorg.

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