Invest in mental health

Mental health care funding must be a priority in Manitoba

In a University of Winnipeg physiological psychology class this year, a professor read letters written by people with severe schizophrenia. One writer spoke of an imagined implant put into his brain by the government during psychological testing. Another demanded the government cease monitoring his telephone. 

The students all giggled at the outrageous claims in the letters, not quite grasping the turmoil of those behind the pen.

In Manitoba, those living with severe mental illness can receive treatment from a variety of resources, most notably the Selkirk Mental Health Centre (SMHC). A 252-bed facility, SMHC provides services through five patient programs: acute, geriatric, rehabilitation, forensic and acquired brain injury.

On Feb. 28, health minister Kelvin Goertzen announced that SMHC has received the highest accreditation possible through Accreditation Canada. SMHC met 99.1 per cent of the required standards to receive this distinction.

This announcement came after the provincial government rejected a unilateral federal health care funding deal. The federal government offered a 5.2 per cent annual increase to health-transfer payments, a drop from the six per cent increase per year previously given to the provinces and territories. Provinces were also offered $11.5 billion for mental health and homecare services. 

"If a victory for mental health comes with a defeat for everyone else who needs health care outside of that category, that's hardly useful," Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says, according to a CBC report.

In the last month, Pallister’s government has instructed the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to slash $80 million from its budget and also scrapped over $1 billion in health care infrastructure projects.

The provincial government has still not reached a federal funding agreement. 

Manitoba currently spends 43.5 per cent of its budget on health care, the second highest in the country. Although a large amount of the provincial budget is allocated to health care, the current model, according to the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics, is not sustainable, and only five per cent is designated for mental health spending. 

On the heels of the accreditation of SMHC, Manitoba should be investing in its mental health services and pushing to expand them. 

Whatever deal is reached between the province and the federal government, the new financial model must include increased funding for mental health. 

SMHC’s success is an example of the quality of mental health care that should be more widely available for all Manitobans. Instead of cutting funding, we need to push to provide broader access to these services.

Manitoba’s unsustainable model coupled with a shortage of federal funding could mean trouble for mental health resources in Manitoba. In the wake of such a glowing review of SMHC, Manitoba must consider the importance of quality mental health care in the province. 

Sarah Donald is a University of Winnipeg student, a health and wellness peer educator, a passionate coffee lover and sports fan.

Published in Volume 71, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 9, 2017)

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