It’s Time to Nationalize Mental Health Services

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Mental health and physical health are closely knit. Many mental health illnesses come with physical health problems and many physical illnesses can produce mental health illnesses. A person’s health is a complicated issue and because of that our nationalized healthcare systems need to begin taking a more holistic approach to treatments. While medication may be needed in periodically or indefinitely there are other areas of care that should be covered beyond emergency room and doctor visits that are just as vital to one’s overall health. As defined by the World Health Organization, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” 

All Canadians will be indirectly affected by mental illness at some point in their lives and 20% will be directly effected. Mental illness like physical illnesses can be combated and minimized with the proper treatment. This can come in the form of medication, therapy, or lifestyle changes. For everyone there are different ways to combat mental illness but the key is to address those problems early before they intensify.

Anorexia for example, is a mental illness that can be detrimental to one’s physical health. While a hospital will take in a patient and give them the proper care they are not equipped to give the long term care needed. There are some Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covered treatment beds but the wait for those can be up to a year, too long for someone who needs immediate help. Ingrid Davidson waited 18 months for a bed to open up only to be told it was not covered by OHIP, and would cost $35,000.

Depression is another mental illness that has a fairly large strain on the healthcare system but which, with effective treatment can be addressed. I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life and have addressed it in different ways at different times. At this point in my life I have come about an effective plan to address it but that has not always been the case. I get depression and anxiety induced headaches. When I was a child I would sneak into the medicine cabinet and pop a tylenol or two not knowing that taking them multiple times a week would end up giving me esophagus ulcers. I ended up in the hospital and was given medication and treatment. Luckily my mom got me into therapy. If I hadn’t gotten therapy simply treating the ulcers would not have changed anything.

Many people with chronic illnesses are at risk of developing mental illness, mainly depression. Depression causes a quicker progression of chronic illnesses and depression is often under diagnosed because symptoms of depression and chronic diseases often overlap. Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease has a high prevalence of depression. Because MS attacks the central nervous system depression can be caused by MS attacking the brain. If addressed, treatment can lead to a better quality of life, but if left unaddressed depression can worsen symptoms.

Economic Costs

Economic costs should not matter when it comes to mental health treatments. The health of a nation is more important than the wealth of a nation but not everyone sees it the same way.

The Mental Health Foundation of Canada has produced a report on the benefits that investing in mental health care would do to the economy. Here are some of their more lucrative findings:

• With 85,000 children in Canada currently estimated to experience a conduct disorder, if proven programs were just to prevent 10% of this incidence (8,500 conduct disorder cases) as much as C$3.1B in potential lifetime savings could be realized. These are savings from the criminal justice system, health system, and increases in lifetime earnings.

• Improving one child’s mental health from moderate to high has been found to result in lifetime savings of $140,000.

• A conservative estimate of the impact of mental health problems and illnesses on lost productivity due to absenteeism, presenteeism (present but less than fully productive at work) and turnover is about $6.3B in 2011; this will rise to $16B in 2041.

In Oregon they have begun bringing doctors and mental health practitioners together. They found that when mental health is adequately addressed overall care was cheaper


Final Thoughts

Mental health will affect everyone at some point in their life. In the 1960s the Canadian government decided to introduce universal healthcare but limited it to the medicinal side of care. In 2017 we need to begin seriously debating what a universal healthcare system that includes mental health services should look like. Similarly to the way everyone needs visit the doctor for regular checkups we should be able to visit a mental health professional for checkups and not worry about the cost. With an increasing number of people unable to find employment where benefits are offered it is time for the government to step in, creating a holistic approach to care.


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