Mental Health Services and Funding


A. Olsen: In the last few years, there have been substantial mental health funding commitments made by the provincial and federal governments, including the creation of the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, as mandated by the confidence and supply agreement.

Even still, in Canada, only 7 percent of the health care budget is dedicated to mental and behavioural health. As a result, access to comprehensive mental health care and addiction support often depends on the size of your bank account. Data clearly shows that lack of access to mental health care is most pronounced in those with lower incomes, fewer years of education, minority groups and people with other vulnerabilities.

Based on this year's budget estimates, it appears the breakdown seems to be that over $20 billion is being spent on the Ministry of Health and $10 million for the Ministry of Mental Health.

My question is to the Minister of Finance. Does the minister have a more detailed breakdown of the percentage of the B.C. health care budget that is dedicated to mental and behavioural health care delivery?

Hon. J. Darcy: We are working very hard to build a comprehensive system of mental health and addictions care in the province. We certainly believe that we need to get to a place where mental health is treated in the same way that physical health is. We have not had a system that does that, and we have a long way to go. But our government has been making some significant investments.

We spend an average — and we canvassed this in estimates — of $2.5 billion a year on mental health and substance use care. Those are figures from last year. In addition, we have committed $74 million to new initiatives for child and youth mental health. That includes expanding Foundry to 19 centres that we've committed to across the province. There was $3 million budgeted for Foundry when we took office. It will be $15 million this year, five times as much.

The member used the term that access to care should not depend "on the size of your bank account." He's quoting very well from when I made the announcement, a $10 million announcement last fall of significant investments in mental health and addictions counselling — the most significant investment in a decade.

We believe we need it to build access, strengthen access to counselling on the ground by investing in community agencies, no-cost and low-cost counselling, with those funds targeted specifically to the most vulnerable people in the population. A third of those agencies who received that funding were Indigenous organizations.

In addition to some of those things, we're beginning to build child and youth mental health teams in our school districts so that we can start early and catch small problems before they become big ones. In the Ministry of Education: $12 million invested in school-based mental health programs. And in the Ministry of Advanced Education, for the first time ever, post-secondary-education students have access to 24-7 phone lines for access to mental health counselling.

We're just getting started. We've got a long way to go. We had a big mess to clean up, but we're on the road. We've made some significant progress to date. But we absolutely need to get to a place where we reduce the stigma about mental health and addictions and where we get to a place where we treat it with the equity with physical health that it deserves.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.

A. Olsen: Thank you to the minister for her comprehensive response.

For most British Columbians, our health care system does not guarantee access to specialized, evidence-based mental health care treatment. Consequently, our walk-in clinics and emergency rooms become the de facto provider for people experiencing mental health challenges. This, in turn, leads to individuals overusing the health care system because their mental health needs are not being adequately addressed.

Ineffectively treating mental illness costs our health care system twice as much as providing appropriate care in the first place. As the minister noted yesterday, four out of five people killed by an illicit drug poisoning had previously been in contact with the health care system, most likely with the primary care system. GPs are working heroically to support people in crisis, but they're inundated and in need of additional specialized mental health resources.

Research shows that when patients are provided with brief psychological assessment and targeted cognitive and behavioural interventions, their conditions improve, both mentally and physically.

My question is again to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. Does the minister agree that by providing a level of mental health accessibility, similar to what we expect for physical health, we can better create health outcomes and lower medical costs?

Hon. J. Darcy: Thank you to the member for the question. I don't think there's any question that that is a goal that we share. It's going to take us a while to get there. We're very proud in Canada to say that we have a universal health care system, but the reality is that at a federal level, mental health and substance use is not integrated into universal medicare the way that it should be.

We continue to press the federal government for further investments, because it is absolutely the case that too often people have to pay privately for access to care. They have to pay for psychologists, to the tune of $150, $250 an hour. They have to pay privately for access to addiction care. So we are strengthening the public parts of the system, while we continue to press the federal government to treat mental health and substance use truly as part of universal medicare in this country.

I would also note that we are integrating mental health and substance use into primary care. We've heard the Minister of Health announce, in one community after another, new urgent and primary care centres and new primary care networks, and we are integrating mental health and substance use professions into those teams. In Fraser Northwest Division of Family Practice, where I live — the first primary care network that was announced — there's a team of five mental health and substance use professionals attached to that team.

We want to reduce the stigma. We want to expand access through the public health care system. Do we have a ways to go? Yes, we do, because this is an area that was ignored for 16 years. But we're on the road. Much accomplished and more to do.