Mental health programs robbed to provide police with more cash

Is taking funding away from mental health programs a good idea?

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The Ontario Conservative government is making a grave mistake to deal with the mental health crisis in the province. The government says it will rob the mental health budget to fund police initiatives to deal with mental health issues and offer de-escalation training.

The announcement comes in the wake of a gunman’s attack last Sunday that killed two people and wounded 13 others on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue. In that attack, it was revealed the shooter had severe mental health issues.

But robbing the mental health budgets in Ontario to fund police initiatives is a terrible mistake. Mental health organizations throughout the province are already complaining about the lack of funding to deal with their caseload.

“Let’s not forget that we need counselling services, we need psychiatrists, we need social workers, we need psychologists, both in the general population as well as with children and youth, and we need housing. We need supportive housing services as well,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.

That’s not all mental health professionals need. It was just last August, London West MPP Peggy Sattler warned the government at that time that gaps in treatment for mental health, particularly for young people, have only gotten worse in the last few years.

“Particularly for young people who are in crisis and are seeking help. The system is in total crisis,” Sattler said.

“The community-based supports, that is key. If we can link young people up with the community-based support they need, we can prevent the crisis we have that makes them end up in the ER,” Sattler added.

But there have been negligible investments in front-line mental health care funding in the past 25 years, she said. Across the province in the past decade, visits to the ER by young people seeking help for a mental health crisis have climbed 63 per cent, according to Sattler.

There has also been a 67 per cent increase in hospitalizations for mental health problems for children and youth in that time. “The system is in chaos, just because of this chronic, chronic underfunding.”

So now the plan is to steal money from a system already in crisis and hand it over to the cops? It makes no sense. If more money is needed to train law enforcement officials, more money should be put in the budget for law enforcement.

If the money is supposed to come from the mental health program budget of the provincial government, then it better be prepared to put more money into that budget to handle the additional requirements.
But we’re not talking about more money here.

We’re talking about robbing Peter to pay Paul. We’re talking about robbing mental health funding in Ontario to fund more police training. It’s wrong. Dead wrong. Saddler’s comments came on the heels of a lawsuit launched by the family of Jenepher Watt against the London Health Sciences Centre and the doctors and nurses in charge of treating her.

The lawsuit alleges Watt didn’t get the care she needed, that procedures weren’t followed and that the hospital didn’t ensure that Watt got proper follow-up care. In the 11 days before taking her own life she was rushed to hospital three times and discharged each time.

“We’re going to see more stories of young people like Jenepher, who have no recourse in the community, who take their own lives,” Sattler said in the CBC story.
“There are so few places that young people can be discharged to, in some cases youth are being kept in hospital for months until there is a placement.”

Eric Hoskins was the health minister back then in a Kathleen Wynne Liberal government. But it doesn’t seem to matter whether the government is Liberal, Conservative or even NDP. Funding for mental health is just not keeping up with the demand.

Just this past January, Addictions and Mental Health Ontario warned the situation was in crisis.
“Frontline community organizations across Ontario provide mental health and addiction care for over 500,000 Ontarians. But funding has not kept pace with the increase in demand and costs of operating these critical programs,”said Gail Czukar, CEO of AMHO in an article provided by Addictions and Mental Health Ontario.

“This has stretched our resources too thin, resulting in long wait lists. When care cannot be accessed where a person needs it, they end up in the hospital, jail or sometimes even worse.”

So now the plan is to stretch those resources even thinner? If the government really wants to solve this problem, it shouldn’t just give in to every demand from the police. What it should do instead is provide more money to the mental health system. Instead of hiring more police officers and training them to be mental health workers, why not hire more mental health workers to deal with mental health cases?

Let the police deal with the legal issues and let the mental health workers deal with the mental health issues. But the plan from this Ontario government is to further cripple a system already in crisis by taking money from that system and handing it over to the police, who are supposed to use it to train themselves to handle some of those cases.

We already have people trained to handle mental health cases. These are the people who should be getting the extra funding. The cops should stick to fighting crime.


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Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson is a retired writer, who worked 35 years in print and broadcast journalism before retiring. He also served in the press operations crews at the 2015 Pan Am Games and the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto.

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