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BEYOND LOCAL: Canadians split on covering mental health services through province, poll says

Amount of support can vary widely depending on where you live

In the third instalment of a Global News series exploring the Canadian health-care system, we look at the financial burden many Canadian families are carrying in order to ensure their children receive the mental health care they need. 

Fifty-one per cent of Canadians believe mental health services should be covered for those without insurance of their own, according to an opinion poll conducted by Ipsos for Global News.

However, only seven per cent of those without medical insurance coverage are paying out of pocket for mental health services, spending an average of about $530 a year.

When Michele Sparling’s son became ill, she says her family was forced to spend much more. Her son was just seven years old when he began to show signs of anxiety and depression.

“The happy-go-lucky little kid that we saw at the beginning of the year started to change, and he really started to try and avoid going to school. He was also really worried about what was happening to me,” Sparling said from her home in Dartmouth, N.S.

The family sought the help of a child psychiatrist and a school counsellor, but within a few years, things had become worse.

“By Grade 5, going to school at all became an issue, being in the classroom, participating in sports teams. The anxiety was really ramping up, and the sadness started to become overwhelming,” she said.

Facing lengthy wait times within the public health system, the Sparling family began paying out of pocket for private care. Sparling recalls paying $175 a session with a child psychologist, every other week at first, but as her son’s illness became more severe, the costs escalated. Over the course of six years, Sparling says her son required more the $30,000 worth of counselling and other supports.

“We were fortunate because we were able to afford it, but that is what led me to being an advocate. I’m thinking, ‘How can people do this?’ Kids are suffering, kids are at risk and dying because families can’t afford it,” Sparling said.

Access to care varies across the country

When it comes to mental health care in Canada, the amount of support available can vary widely depending on where you live. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, families often face situations where services are either not funded by provincial health plans or are only available after a lengthy wait.

“The problem is that we don’t have real data on a national level so I can’t say across the board what (wait times are)… but it ranges from six to 12 to 18 months in certain communities,” said Fardous Hosseiny, national director of research and public policy for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Part of the issue, Hosseiny says, is that funding for many mental health specialists is not covered by provincial health systems.

“We have psychologists, peer support workers, we have social workers, we have addiction counsellors, but they’ve been relegated to the sidelines in this country because they’re not part of the publicly funded system,” Hosseiny explained.

As a result, Hosseiny says many patients end up in crisis at hospital emergency departments. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the number of children and youth visiting emergency departments for issues related to mental health has increased by 75 per cent since 2006.

During a mental health crisis, Jeff Warner says his son spent several days in a Toronto emergency department because there were no other care options available.

“He spent a week inside of the ER waiting for specialized mental health care in Toronto. There was nowhere for him to go — all of the beds were booked and all the places were full,” Warner said.

Still, Warner considers his family lucky. Much of the care his son requires for his complex mental health needs has been covered by Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services and other forms of support. Without that funding, the Guelph, Ont., father believes his son would not have survived.

“(My wife) and I are fully aware that we probably wouldn’t have him with us anymore, that it’s very likely in one of his crises, he would have been successful in a suicide attempt or we would have had to break up our family,” Warner said.

“Other parents don’t have access to the same supports, they don’t have employee assistance plans, they don’t have counselling, they don’t have insurance. There’s definitely enormous gaps.”

- Global News

In the third instalment of a Global News series exploring the Canadian health-care system, we look at the financial burden many Canadian families are carrying in order to ensure their children receive the mental health care they need. 


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