There is No Health Without Mental Health
The focus on mental health is unlike anything our province has experienced before. The impacts of COVID-19 will last long after vaccination. In planning for recovery, mental health is just as important as physical health.
CMHA believes mental healthcare should be publicly funded and accessible to every Albertan, with services offered by psychologists, Indigenous healers, counsellors, peer support workers and other allied professionals. In Canada, chronic underfunding of health care has created an environment that fosters a two-tier system. “Eighty-five per cent of Canadians say mental health services are among the most underfunded services in our healthcare system—and the majority agree (86 per cent) that the Government of Canada should fund mental health at the same level as physical health.” (CMHA National, 2018)
Albertans have never been more conscious of their own and their loved ones’ mental health. COVID-19 has helped us be intentional about checking in with friends, family and coworkers. The need for accessible, proactive and relevant mental health resources is transparent. Mental and physical health should be seen as equally important to one’s well-being.
Personal and Proactive Control over Mental Health
Just as we have the right to bodily autonomy, and the freedom to decide what happens to our physical body, Albertans must be allowed personal control over their mental health. The mental health effects of COVID-19 have demonstrated that Alberta’s reactive approach to mental health cannot account for unexpected and dramatic events.
Reactive care to mental health struggles does not prevent crises’ from occurring. We know exercise and healthy eating can prevent potential physical illness or sickness. This is a proactive approach to maintaining physical health. Providing mental health strategies – like self-care, mindfulness, connection and resiliency strategies – and services to all children and young people can help curb serious mental health challenges later in life.
Mental Health and the Freedom from Discrimination
Discrimination prevents healthy relationship-building, positive social interactions and the formation of inclusive environments needed for well-being. Black people, Indigenous peoples, people of colour, newcomers, immigrants and refugees deserve freedom from racism, discrimination and stigma in the health care system, community and workplaces. Systemic racism within Alberta’s healthcare system towards Indigenous communities, Black communities and additional non-majority communities must be acknowledged and rectified. This should include social spending investments to address mental illness root causes, including poverty, trauma and marginalization.
Alberta’s mental health program and policy development should be done in consultation with newcomers, women, LGBT2SQ+ communities, low-income communities, rural communities, communities without reliable Internet, people with disabilities, older adults, youth and Indigenous communities. By addressing discrimination in the mental healthcare system, we can improve the overall health of marginalized people and enhance the health of underserved communities.
Accessible Mental Health Care for Every Albertan
Psychologists, talk therapists and counselling services are out of reach for many Albertans; few publicly-funded counselling services exist. Most people who receive counselling are relying on their private insurance or pay directly. Up to 80 per cent of Canadians rely on their family physicians to meet their mental health and addiction care needs. Canadians spend $950 million on counselling services each year—30 per cent of it out of pocket. Public funding is only provided to treatments labelled as “medically necessary,” which are often administered in hospitals.
Mental health and wellness do not currently receive the same focus as physical health care. When we visit our family doctor for physical exams or experience a physical injury or illness that requires immediate care, we can expect our physician to work with us to find timely help that is close by. This support is not necessarily guaranteed when we face mental health challenges. Approximately 1.6 million Canadians per year experience unmet mental health needs. Some unmet needs are due to the long wait times to see mental health professionals and high costs for specialized mental health care. With increased government focus and mental health funding, our province would see more accessible care for every Albertan.
CMHA, Alberta Division’s Mental Health Programs
CMHA, Alberta Division advocates for and provides free mental health resources across Alberta. Community-based and grassroots-run programming is essential to mental health and well-being in our province. We encourage you to access these services for yourself or your loved ones:
- Free virtual mental health resources with BounceBack and Recovery College
- In-person and virtual community-based peer support for military and first responders through OSI-CAN
- In-person and virtual support groups in rural and remote communities through the Rural Mental Health Project
- In-person and virtual peer support for family caregivers through Caregiver Connections
- Community conversation and inclusivity support on campuses with Healthy Campus Alberta
How You Can Take Action
In Alberta, we must promote open access to all. CMHA, Alberta Division advocates for the province to adopt a health-equity lens. A health-equity approach would place mental health on the same standing of importance as physical health.
Reach out to your local MLA and ask for comprehensive and inclusive community-level mental health programs and services to be a priority as we continue to face COVID-19 in every corner of our province.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health distress during this time, please call 211 (Alberta only) or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.
CMHA National. (2018, September 14). Mental Health in the Balance: Ending Health Care Disparity in Canada. [Webpage]. Retrieved March, 2021, from: https://cmha.ca/ending-health-care-disparity-canada