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Unequal Access to Mental Health and Addictions Services Threatens Ontarians

Ten provincial organizations join forces to mobilize grassroots to Vote on Mental Health and Addictions
For Immediate Release - May 31, 2011 - (Toronto) – Timely and appropriate care for a mental health or addiction problem depends largely on where you live, leaving tens of thousands of Ontarians struggling to get the care they deserve, says a report released today by the newly-formed Ontario Mental Health & Addictions Alliance.
The ten organizations in the Alliance –joining forces for the first time –are mobilizing their supporters in ridings across Ontario, both on the ground and online using social media and a special campaign website – www.vote4mha.ca.
“Mental health and addiction issues affect each and every Ontarian in some way,” says Lorne Zon, CEO, Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario. “That is why we are joining together to ensure all candidates in the upcoming election understand mental health and addiction issues must receive the same level of support as physical illnesses.”
Per capita funding for community mental health ranges from $18.54 in one region to $124.78 in another, creating wildly uneven access to services across the province.
Through the Ontario Legislature’s Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions, all three political parties have agreed that “Ontario needs a comprehensive mental health and addictions plan.”
“Treatment for mental health and addiction issues right now is determined by your postal code,” says Mary Alberti, CEO, Schizophrenia Society of Ontario. “Ontarians have a right to timely and effective care, no matter where they live.”
Funding and service inequities across the province affect Ontarians from all walks of life.  The wait for supportive housing in one jurisdiction is 1,097 days, nearly four times higher than the provincial average of 290 days.  For residential addiction treatment, the average wait is 41 days, but is five times higher in the Central East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) region. Children and youth also face unequal access to mental health care. Children in the Hamilton-Niagara region must wait up to 283 days for treatment, more than double the 130-day wait in the southeast. For people in crisis or needing specialized care, access to a bed in treatment facilities also varies widely across Ontario. 
“Early intervention is crucial when treating mental illness and addictions, and supportive housing is vital for recovery and rehabilitation,” says Dr. Catherine Zahn, President and CEO, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “Investing in mental health and addiction services is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense.”
More than 2.5 million Ontarians live with a mental illness and/or addiction. Millions more – family members, friends and co-workers – are also affected. Ignoring their needs results in a huge drain on the provincial economy. Mental illness is the most expensive cause of workplace disability, costing each Canadian employer an average of $18,000 per claim. Three per cent of people living with an untreated mental illness or addiction will face a severe and persistent disability, costing Ontario $39 billion a year in added costs and lost output.
“For too long, too many Ontarians have been neglected,” says Dennis Long, Vice-President, Addictions Ontario. “This election, political candidates across this province will be hearing from voters about the profound need for equitable access to mental health and addictions care.  Ontarians will expect all parties to have a concrete plan for action.”
To solve the most pressing challenges facing Ontarians living with a mental illness and/or addiction, the Alliance is asking provincial parties to act in four key ways:
  • invest in mental health and addictions services to provide equitable access to a core basket of services across Ontario;
  • reduce wait times to ensure that children and youth are getting timely access to treatment;
  • improve access to supportive housing across Ontario; and,
  • put government leadership in place to co-ordinate action across ministries and sectors.
Media contact: Michael Torres, CAMH Media Relations; 416-595-6015 or via email; media@camh.net
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About the Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance (www.vote4mha.ca): The Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance is a broadly based coalition of provincial organizations from across the continuum of care – from community to hospital services and consumer and family organizations.
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