Are We Facing a Mental Health Crisis? Here's The Truth & What We Can Do About It
Updated: Feb 25
Historically, mental health is something that is often overlooked or considered less important than other aspects of our health. But the fact is, mental health is integral to our wellbeing! The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reported that by the age of 40, 1 in 2 Canadians have had or are currently dealing with a mental illness. Many others will have a relative or close friend who will face a mental health issue. Although people speaking up about their own mental health experiences has begun to encourage and normalize more open and honest conversations about mental health, many of those struggling are still uncomfortable reaching out for help or can’t access the support they need to get better.
Our Mental Health Is Worse Than Ever
Recent years have seen Ontario sinking deeper and deeper into a mental health crisis. With levels of stress and mental illness rising, the health care system has been straining to keep up—and failing. To make matters worse, countless lives were thrown into further turmoil as the entire world was blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. This sent the mental health crisis into an even steeper downward spiral.
The pandemic resulted in many people losing jobs and income, disrupted families, kept children out of school, and cut people off from their loved ones. Many were left drowning in a sea of uncertainty, stress, and anger—and fearing for their future. According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a 25 percent increase in the frequency of anxiety and depression worldwide. So many Canadians have felt, and continue to feel overwhelmed and exhausted, as they try to deal with burnout and chronic stress. It is during such times that people are most vulnerable and mental health problems are most likely to emerge. But when people started looking for help, it was extremely difficult to find.
Accessing Mental Health Support Is Not Easy
Although the COVID-19 pandemic escalated mental health issues into a full blown crisis, the problem was that mental health services had already been neglected for years. Total health spending in Canada is more than $300 billion per year. That seems like a lot, right? What may come as a shock is that only 7 percent of that budget goes towards mental health!
So even though far more people are looking for mental health support, they are met with endless barriers to accessing care. For instance, the pandemic instigated extremely high rates of health care professional burnout, which meant less therapists and health care professionals available during a time when demand was skyrocketing, which continues to be a problem now. This has led to longer waitlists, less personal attention, and limited spots in more intensive programs. While the average wait time for counselling for children and youth is around 67 days, in some places, they may have to wait up to 2.5 years for care! In addition, because of the rampant job loss and limited incomes during the pandemic (and not to mention drastic levels of inflation), affordability has become a more widespread and significant barrier to the mental health support that people so desperately need. It has become the perfect storm of obstacles and those truly suffering are the ones paying the price.
How Can We Help End the Mental Health Crisis in Canada?
While it’s impossible to simplify such a multi-faceted issue like mental health care, those struggling with their mental health deserve access to support and the chance to improve their quality of life. Relieving the mental health crisis necessitates increasing the supply of mental health services, which can be done by the expansion of virtual therapy and creating more affordable therapy options.
Increase Access to Therapy: Virtual Counselling Options
There are many barriers those battling mental health issues must contend with when trying to access care. The high burnout rate and lack of mental health professionals creates long waitlists to see a therapist. Some geographical areas may not have any therapists at all! This means individuals in those locations would be forced to go further away to find a therapist, use more gas and time, and scheduling would become more difficult.
On top of the issue of therapist availability, those with lower income must also contend with a variety of physical barriers to care including being unable to afford time off work to attend therapy, lack of access to transportation to get to therapy, and less scheduling flexibility. All of these issues can stop people from pursuing counselling.
Online therapy options have been increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and should continue to be expanded. There are many benefits to virtual therapy! It allows individuals to fit therapy sessions into their schedule more easily and saves them time and travel expenses. Online therapy also gives those living in underserved rural areas or locations more options for connecting with a therapist.
Virtual therapy also gives people more choice when picking a therapist, since geographical location is no longer an obstacle. This means individuals have a better chance of finding a therapist that they truly connect with. But simply creating access to online therapy isn’t the only way to ease the mental health crisis.
Provide More Affordable Therapy Options
Addressing the physical barriers to healthcare can help reduce the mental health crisis, but financial barriers are equally important. Money should never be the reason that someone can’t get the help they need. Yet that is exactly the case for many people.
Although mental health is an important part of overall wellbeing, the sad reality is that therapy can also be expensive. When it comes to mental health care, those in lower income brackets may not have insurance that covers counselling. Unless they seek care from a hospital (in the case of emergencies or a mental health crisis) or have insurance, individuals are forced to cover the steep costs of psychotherapy and counselling on their own. This leaves many of those struggling with their mental health vulnerable and often unable to pay for consistent mental health support.
Thankfully, there are programs coming into effect that could help ease the burden. Some therapists are now offering lower cost options, and there are sometimes volunteer based programs, or financial support programs that would allow lower income individuals to receive help with payments. At Inner Growth Counselling and Psychotherapy, we have even launched our own Affordable Therapy Program to help increase access to mental health services through more affordable online therapy. Studies have long shown that those in lower income brackets are more likely to develop physical and mental illnesses, so it’s important that we ensure more equal access to care.
As we try to reduce the impact of this mental health crisis on people who are suffering, there is no simple, easy solution to the problem. But we must do whatever we can right now. By offering some relief through the expansion of virtual as well as low cost therapy, we can give more people the chance to access the support they truly need.
Our team of online and in-person Barrie counsellors provide quality and effective counselling services in Barrie and virtually across Ontario to individuals (6+), couples and families.