Feds urged to make mental health top priority in health accord negotiations

The Trudeau government is being urged to make mental health a top priority as it negotiates a new health accord with the provinces and territories.

Dr. Catherine Zahn, president of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says mental illness afflicts some 6.7 million Canadians, roughly 20 per cent of the population, and costs the economy an estimated $51 billion each year.

That's a bigger burden than is caused by cancer or infectious diseases. and yet Zahn says only about seven per cent of the billions spent on health care in Canada goes to mental illness.

Zahn wants the health accord to explicitly earmark funds for research aimed at determining the biological origins of conditions like addiction, depression, schizophrenia, autism and dementia.

She says it should also commit to national public wait time standards for access to mental health treatments and commit to meaningful reductions in those wait times over the next decade.

As well, Zahn wants federal and provincial governments to commit to improving access to "structured psychotherapy" which has proven effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression, and to list it as a medically necessary, publicly funded service within "a reasonable time frame."