Mental health in federal budget

A little over a month since the federal government released “Budget 2013” and most of us have likely heard coverage of the highlights. We’ve certainly seen a range of opinions on some of the cuts and new spending, the removal of tariffs on children’s sporting goods, the end of CIDA, and many others.

Some of the media coverage has also touched on this budget’s plan to reduce homelessness through housing first initiatives. Whatever your opinion of our current federal leadership, it should come as promising news that some forward action is taking place when it comes to this serious national problem.

From a mental health perspective, new money for housing first initiatives is encouraging.

In the proposed budget, the government has earmarked $119 million per year over five years (almost $600 million in total) for Homelessness Partnering Strategy using a housing first approach.

Apparently, this new direction is attributed directly to the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) housing first pilot project, At Home/Chez Soi. I have written about this project in the past and so far it is showing very positive results as an effective and cost efficient way to reduce homelessness and improve the quality of life among homeless people with mental illness.

In addition to this big investment in housing first, the budget also plans $4 million over two years to enhance community-based mental health services in First Nations communities. This is another initiative recommended by the MHCC in their national mental health strategy.

Funds will also be moved to improve data collection and reporting of mental illness as recommended in the national strategy.

It is certainly encouraging to see the government taking at least some of the advice given by the MHCC as it sets priorities for the coming years. This is crucial if recommendations from our national mental health strategy are going to be realized. The MHCC is not a funding agency so relies on support and buy-in from federal and provincial governments as well as other stakeholders like employers, educators and healthcare professionals.

Although mental health is dubbed the ‘orphan’ of healthcare, it certainly doesn’t carry a small burden to our society. Twenty percent of us will experience mental illness at some point in our lives and mental health problems cost our economy more than $50 billion per year. It is time we put some concentrated and coordinated efforts into improving the way we handle these issues.


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