Approximately 30 per cent of people in Ontario age 15 and up will experience a mental health or addictions challenge at some point in their lives Opinion by Dr. Thomas Stewart Hamilton Spectator
Dr. Thomas Stewart says of the decision to go public with a mental health challenge: “That decision takes courage. And for far too many people the complicated and overwhelming web of services makes it difficult for people to get connected to the care they need, when they need it.”
Every year two million people in Ontario visit their family doctors seeking support and treatment for mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorder; but we know the number of Ontarians living with mental illness is much higher.
Approximately 30 per cent of people in Ontario age 15 and up will experience a mental health or addictions challenge at some point in their lives, with one in 40 experiencing a serious mental illness.
Every family has a story about how mental health has touched them, including mine.
I have been a doctor for over 30 years. At the beginning of my career, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. It hit me out of nowhere. I woke up one day and felt fear. Fear of everything. It didn’t leave my side until I received help and learned to manage it. I remember at the time, one of my mentors said to me “Don’t tell anyone. It’s a sign of weakness.” But I did the exact opposite. I told everyone, and I’m glad I did.
Over the years I have seen the conversation shift. More and more people are opening up about their own personal struggles.
On the upside the stigma around talking about our mental health challenges has lessened drastically. During my medical training it was never discussed, but now mental wellness and mental health and addiction care is a fundamental part of clinical training.
In fact, 86 per cent of Canadians say they are more aware of mental health issues now than they were a few years ago.
But as the conversation grows people are speaking up and seeking help.
That decision takes courage. And for far too many people the complicated and overwhelming web of services makes it difficult for people to get connected to the care they need, when they need it.
The provincial and federal government together has committed $3.8 billion in new funding for mental health and addiction services over the next 10 years to support this work.
The impact of this investment is already being felt.
Our teams at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and Niagara Health run Ontario’s second largest mental health and addictions program. Every day our dedicated teams are challenging the status quo by working with patients and families to create new models of care to make accessing mental health and addiction care easier and results in a reduction in wait times.
Thanks to government support, working in partnership with community providers and family doctors, residents from Hamilton to Niagara have access to the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic that connects patients with an appointment within 24 hours from the time of their referral.
At the heart of these programs is our commitment to create integrated care solutions that connect patients to one team, with one patient record, and one number to call whether they are in the hospital, at home, or in the community.
Gone are the days where mental illness and addiction were considered taboo subjects that couldn’t be spoken about publicly. But it’s time to shift the conversation beyond awareness; we all need to ensure that adequate funding is available to support people in need of care and co-design care solutions that are readily accessible, patient-centred and support families affected by mental illness and addiction.
Together, we can build innovative solutions that make accessing care easier for patients and families. That is why this conversation matters. Not just today, but every day.
Dr. Thomas Stewart is CEO of St. Joseph’s Healthcare System and Niagara Health