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Allocating $25M to mental health and addiction support an invaluable investment for Calgary

By Jennifer Khil, August 30 2018 —

In a move that was both spot-on and long overdue, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi proposed using $25 million of the city’s “rainy-day” fund on mental health and addiction support over the summer at the end of July. City council approved the funding in an 11–3 vote days later.

“We need to take a system-wide view on addiction, on mental health, on crime prevention,” Nenshi told the CBC, pointing out a rise in social disorder and property crimes in Calgary over the past several years.

Such increases are a concrete and measurable consequence of inadequate support for mental illness and addiction. Though mental illness and addiction have many unquantifiable effects on individuals’ lives, tracking community order and stability can help long-term trends. It also exemplifies why addressing mental health is a pervasive issue that should be supported by multiple government bodies.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one in five Canadians will experience mental illness or addiction in any given year, and one in two Canadians will have or have had a mental illness by the age of 40. The prevalence of mental health and addiction in our society warrants government action, including from Calgary city council.

The Calgary Police Service’s budget has already been increased and between $3 million – $7 million is being put into crime prevention initiatives yearly. Nenshi feels more is needed, stating that the system through which Calgarians currently attempt to access support is “horribly confusing.”

Mental health and addiction support in the city should be easily accessible and barriers to access should be removed. An Alberta Health Services report indicates only 65 per cent of children received needed mental health services within 30 days. These are the worst results ever compiled by the province. Similarly, wait times for an appointment with a psychiatrist in Calgary can take months.

Mental health support access within a community must be straight-forward and financially feasible, as ineffective intervention has widespread and long-term repercussions. According to the CAMH, individuals with a mental illness are much less likely to find employment.

Inaction also disproportionately harms disadvantaged groups. The CAMH reports that Canadians in the lowest income bracket are three- to four-times more likely than those in the highest income group to report poor to fair mental health.

The city has a responsibility to secure effective mental health and addiction supports, as these in turn foster community safety. Providing this city service would not be unlike city spending on police, bylaw, fire, community and family social services.

The proposal of using $25 million toward crime prevention and a new mental health and addictions strategy is a great use of public funds. Ideally, the funding should help streamline the process of seeking and accessing support. This includes the promotion of public mental health awareness and education. Though it has improved in recent years, stigma and lack of awareness continue to impede effective mental health interventions.

Educational campaigns would help in recognizing the signs of declining mental health or an addiction problem and how and from whom to seek help. The lingering stigma attached to mental illness and addiction should continue to be targeted.

City funding should support and work in tandem with organizations offering sliding-scale rates for mental health services, such as the Calgary Counselling Centre. By partnering with provincial initiatives such as Alberta Health Services and other nongovernmental networks, funding can sponsor widespread awareness efforts as well as provide more training for healthcare professionals and others who may work in close contact with those affected by mental illness. Training may include recognizing the need for intervention and understanding more clearly when and where to refer individuals to further resources.

A growing body of evidence has demonstrated that promotion, prevention and early intervention initiatives show positive mental health results from both a utilitarian and socially conscious perspective. In order to remain a vibrant, world-class city, Calgarians should support this initiative to improve the well-being of those who are in need of mental health and addiction support.

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