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Ontario To Provide Free Therapy For People With Anxiety Or Depression

The new program, called Mindability, is launching this spring.
Minister of Health Christine Elliott makes an announcement in Toronto on Feb. 26, 2019.
Tijana Martin/Canadian Press
Minister of Health Christine Elliott makes an announcement in Toronto on Feb. 26, 2019.

Ontarians will soon be able to get free therapy for anxiety and depression through a program called Mindability, the health minister announced Tuesday.

“Mindability will be funded just like OHIP [Ontario Health Insurance Plan], with no out-of-pocket cost to patients,” Minister Christine Elliott said at a mental health centre in Whitby, Ont.

“Through this groundbreaking program, an individual will receive an assessment from a trained mental health clinician and offered a therapy program that best addresses their level of need.”

She said the program will offer cognitive behavioural therapy only for people who have anxiety or depression.

Watch: How I embraced my bipolar disorder. Story continues after video.

“If it’s a more acute episode, if it’s something else that’s happening, they will be treated elsewhere.”

She said people will be able to sign up online, over the phone or by text message. Patients will get either internet modules and workbooks combined with over-the-phone coaching or in-person group or individual therapy.

Currently, mental health services are only covered by OHIP if they’re provided by a family doctor, at a hospital or by a psychiatrist.

“Ontario is finally, finally turning a corner.”

- Christine Elliott

“Not everyone needs to see a psychiatrist,” Elliott said Tuesday. And there are “huge” waiting lists to see one, she added.

“Ontario is finally, finally turning a corner.”

Mindability will launch in spring 2020 and be expanded by the end of the year. HuffPost Canada has asked spokespeople for Elliott and the Ministry of Health for a specific launch date but has not received a response.

The minister said the program will make it more simple for people to find mental health care.

“No [two] patients are the same. We all know that,” she said.

“The long-haul truck driver feeling isolated from friends and family, the middle-aged professional struggling with work performance, the Grade 11 student whose studies are now slipping: Each of these individuals has unique needs. But by matching them with the most appropriate level of support, Mindability will make a real difference in their lives.”

The government is spending $20 million on the Mindability program this year and hopes it will treat 80,000 people a year when fully implemented in three to four years.

Mindability is one part of the Progressive Conservative government’s new mental health strategy called Roadmap to Wellness. The province is also creating a mental health “centre of excellence” that will monitor the quality of services across Ontario.

Service providers call for more funding

In a statement Tuesday, mental health service providers reminded Elliott that the strategy must be matched with increased funding.

Parts of the plan “have the potential to transform” mental health care in Ontario, but only if the PCs make “substantial and immediate” investments in their upcoming spring budget, said a coalition of mental health groups, including the centre where Elliott made her announcement.

The government needs to spend at least $380 million more every year to reduce wait times for services that might not be offered by Mindability, like intensive therapy and supportive housing, the statement said.

“An eighteen-year-old man who has overdosed three times ... can’t wait another eighteen months.”

- Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, Canadian Mental Health Association – Ontario Division, Children’s Mental Health Ontario and Mental Health Partners

“A twelve-year-old with suicidal ideation needing intensive mental health services can’t wait for two years. An eighteen-year-old man who has overdosed three times in the last month whose assessment points to a need for long-term residential addiction treatment can’t wait another eighteen months. And a sixty-year-old elderly woman who is living with schizophrenia [and] needs access to stable, supportive housing with on site case workers should not need to live in the shelter system for years waiting.”

Between 2017 and 2019, wait times for children and youth mental health services have more than doubled, according to a report released earlier this year by Children’s Mental Health Ontario.

‘I’m skeptical’

The NDP’s critic for mental health blasted the government for spending $335 million less each year on mental health than the Liberal government had promised to shortly before the 2018 election.

Every bit of help is needed, but anything less in mental health funding than the $330 million Doug Ford and Christine Elliott took away is still a cut,” said MPP Bhutila Karpoche in a statement.

“And just undoing cuts to mental health funding is nowhere what’s needed.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he agreed with the mental health providers who said more investment is needed.

“I’m skeptical of the premier’s commitment to investing in front-line mental health solutions,” he said.

“Whether it’s education or health-care spending, the government’s math can never be trusted because they are always trying to disguise cuts to front-line services.”

With a file from The Canadian Press

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