Re-Examining Mental Health Funding in Ontario
There is no question that November is a stressful time for university students. Assignments are stacking up, exam dates are slowly approaching and extracurricular activities or other commitments are losing their fun lustre. And just when we thought that was all we had to contend with, the sky darkens at 5 p.m., the temperature drops and feelings of isolation caused by the pandemic set in.
The sum of all of these aforementioned disruptions is the declining mental health of the student population. That statement probably doesn’t come as a great shock, as every person paying passive attention to the news can rattle off stories to this effect.
Whether it be increased alcohol consumption, heightened levels of depression and anxiety or isolation from loved ones, it’s quite easy to see why few people would claim to be performing at their intellectual peak.
Luckily for many university students, mental health services are ingrained in the healthcare services of the universities.
At the Laurier Student Wellness Centre, students can speak to counsellors about short-term mental health struggles, at no cost at the point of use (appointments are usually available within days or weeks). There are also some private counselling practices in the area, the fees of which are covered mostly by student health insurance.
Our school also makes initiatives like Thrive Week feel important, giving them a platform large enough to reach those in need of resources. This is not to say Laurier’s system is perfect, but it is a system better than many people experience outside of a university environment. We can take from our system key features that can be adopted on a wider basis.
The Ontario health care system is quite good, and I don’t mean to give it unnecessary criticism, but the pandemic has highlighted that mental health services need to be available to residents in the same way that physical health services are available today.
In Ontario, the services of registered social workers, psychotherapists and psychologists are not included in the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
Mental health and physical health are intimately connected, so it would be a tough argument to make that government health services should cover physical health, but the moment someone encounters mental health struggles that affect their physical well-being, we should only care about one of those and not the other.
The principle of socialized medicine is that every person, regardless of socio-economic status, should have access to quality healthcare. It is a principle that people in Canada are extremely proud of. Canadians are also quick to flaunt it to any American who tries to pontificate on the superiority of a market-based system.
It strikes me as strange then that many Canadians seem less thrilled about funding some of the aforementioned mental health professionals. If psychologists, as an example, are only available to those rich enough to afford the hourly rate or those who are lucky enough to have a job where benefits cover these services, this runs counter to the principles of socialized medicine.
It goes without saying that many Canadians do not make enough to cover exorbitant hourly rates, and many people do not have workplace benefits, so this creates a system where socio-economic status dictates access to care.
The mental health of a person ties directly into their physical well-being, so creating socio-economic barriers to mental health services could not only adversely affect someone’s mental health, but it could quickly affect their physical well-being as well. This is one case for expanding OHIP funding to professionals like RSWs and psychologists.
The other added benefit of funding these services is that many stigmas about mental health services will decrease or disappear.
A multitude of people, at various times in their lives, can feel like they need help. Sometimes they may feel like reaching out to a professional, but oftentimes they can be dissuaded from this conviction because of the social stigma that exists around mental health.
But if every person in a particular province or country knows that they are contributing, usually through taxes, to the mental well-being of their fellow citizens, and they know they can also call on these services in times of need, could a stigma around these services exist?
I suppose that depends on the extent to which you think one exists now, and your optimism, but I feel like funding these services would send the right societal message.
The mental health services we have access to in university are not perfect, but they seem to be far better than the help that is available to others. The funding for mental health in Ontario needs to be re-examined, especially in light of current circumstances, to properly reflect the true meaning of a health-care system that was founded on equality, and tear down stigmas that have lasted far too long.