How to deal with the costs of mental health care

While more is needed, there is help for people struggling with mental health issues

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s mental health. Statistics Canada reported that about one in 10 Canadians had mental health needs before the pandemic began. Today, it’s about one in five.

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In a recent survey, the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that 24% of Canadians reported moderate to severe levels of anxiety. Similarly, Statistics Canada found that 11% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 suffer from a mood disorder.

Yet Canadians face barriers when it comes to meeting their mental health needs, even with so much attention given to the subject. And one of those barriers, of course, is cost.

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“On the one hand, there is [are] a lot of options and on the other a lot of gaps,” said Mary Bartram, director of policy for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in an interview. “There are a lot of them, but it’s hard to know where to go.”

Take time off work

One of the most difficult issues Canadians face is informing their employers of their mental illness. In a 2019 survey, 75% of respondents said they would be reluctant or unwilling to disclose a mental illness to an employer. The main reason for this was the stigma surrounding mental health.

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However, talking to your human resources department can be a good place to find out all of your options. Especially if you have to take time off work to take care of your mental health.

“If you can work with a psychiatrist, it’s covered by insurance,” Bartram said, “But it’s for people with the most severe needs…ongoing therapy – we don’t see a lot of resources publicly available for this nowhere. [Not] in other countries either.

If you need time off work, employment insurance is definitely an income support option. You can take a short-term or long-term disability related to a mental illness and use the benefits to cover your care.

“If you are too sick to work…you may be able to get income support while on leave. And at some point you can also get employment insurance income assistance [Employment Insurance] program,” Bartram said.

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Where to start

It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you earn, Bartram said there are services Canadians can use for free. These can at least provide you with advice, and perhaps enough resources, to help you manage your mental health needs.

“Things like structured psychotherapy programs in Ontario, things like Stepped to Care 2.0 [are] an unfolding model of care,” Bartram said. “During the pandemic, we have seen that the biggest novelty has been the Wellness Together Canada Portal launched by Health Canada.

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The portal gives Canadians access to information, educational videos, anxiety management and more. However, another place to start is also with your primary care physician, Bartram said.

“Doctors were able to provide mental health counseling and certainly access to medication,” Bartram said.

How to pay the fees

Medication, ongoing therapy, work stoppage, all of this has an impact on finances. And again, while the Canadian government is doing some work, many Canadians may not know where to turn. Especially those on low incomes or with little or no benefits, Bartram said.

“People who don’t have access to benefits and can’t pay out of pocket…there could be social assistance, but that would vary from province to province and that’s a pretty small part what we’re talking about here,” Bartram said.

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This is where it becomes important to find more information on programs like Ontario Structured psychotherapyand national programs like Step by step to care and Wellness Canada. These systems can be used to cover at least part of the expenses.

“Through our work, people have access to mental health benefits,” Bartram said. “It varies a lot, but sometimes it can be worth $2,000, and other times $200.”

Canadians who don’t necessarily need ongoing care, but for whom that (perhaps) $1,000 benefit isn’t enough, should speak with their doctor. They can probably sign you up for a provincially funded program or a psychiatric referral, Bartram said.

More to come in near future

The recent partnership between the federal Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, which seeks to form an alliance that will govern the country until 2025, has addressed some mental health issues, but not all.

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Although finances and mental health were mentioned in the announcement, there remained no strategy to provide Canadians with better mental health care overall.

The Mental Health Strategy for Canada recommends increasing health spending to 9% of the health budget in 2022, which would amount to $5.7 billion in Ontario alone. However, with drug addiction having reached unprecedented heights during the pandemic, it remains at the center of government spending.

“There is consensus that there is no one size fits all solution to the overdose crisis,” said Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health in a recent statement. . “Safer supply pilots are one of the many important tools we have to save lives.”

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Given that substance abuse goes hand in hand in many cases with mental health issues, it may still be some time before a federal policy provides increased mental health coverage for Canadians struggling with other mental health issues. In fact, Canadians may see some programs announced during the pandemic drop afterward.

“Health care in Canada is typically 30% privately covered, and that has changed a bit during the pandemic,” Bartram said. “When all these campaigns slow down, we’re going to go back to that 30% figure.”

In the meantime, the hope is that maybe when the pandemic is completely over, there will be far fewer cases of serious mental health issues, Bartram said. But that doesn’t seem likely.

“If I was a therapist right now, it would be really hard to diagnose somebody,” she said. “There are pretty strong indications that the pandemic has had a negative impact … and those impacts are going to be long-lasting and complicated.

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.

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