Mental Health Programs Lacking: Gelinas

September 11, 2009

A provincial committee investigating problems related to mental health and addictions in Ontario heard Thursday that the North suffers the same difficulties as southern Ontario -- and then some.

In many northern communities, it isn't just that wait times are long to access mental health and addictions programs. It is that those programs simply do not exist.

Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas, the New Democrat Health critic, is one of nine members of the Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions that is visiting communities throughout Ontario.

The non-partisan committee heard from several speakers Thursday in Sudbury.

What "jumped out" at her in the northern presentations, said Gelinas, is the impact a lack of services has on families.

For instance, the Community Counselling Centre of Nipissing told the committee there is nowhere in Northern Ontario to have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder diagnosed.

Families who suspect their children are suffering from the syndrome must travel to Toronto or London for a diagnosis.

Another issue the committee was made aware of is that many mental health and addictions programs in the North are run strictly by volunteers.

"Excellent programs have been developed because people took it upon themselves to help themselves," said Gelinas.

But volunteers said, after years of working with no money, they require some form of stable funding to continue.

Because of non-existent services or long waits for those in place, "there are so many broken lives, so many missed opportunities, so many struggling families that are trying to help their loved ones, but are not getting the help they want and the consequences are catastrophic," said Gelinas.

The select committee will present its preliminary report to the Ontario Legislature by Christmas, with its final report to be completed by the end of the session.

The first report will contain recommendations that the Liberal government can begin costing so they can be included in their March 2010 provincial budget and "rolled out" before the summer is over, said the MPP.

Gelinas said she is optimistic the McGuinty government will accept the recommendations of her group, which is only the third select committee to be struck in the last decade.

The idea for the committee came from the Progressive Conservatives and the government approved it, "so right there it shows it is an idea that we all agreed upon. We need to do better."

What also encourages Gelinas is that the committee's recommendations will include several that can be implemented quickly and not only by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, but by all ministries of the provincial government.

Gelinas said the old adage is that to have good mental health, people need "a home, a job and a friend. None of that is the mandate of the Ministry of Health."

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