December 9, 2014 3:09 pm
Updated: December 9, 2014 4:17 pm

Pledges and promises made in mental health in Canada 2014

In this Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009 file photo, soldiers patrol the outskirts of Spin Boldak, near the border with Pakistan, about 100 kilometers (63 miles) southeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan. In 2014, veteran advocates continued to speak about the urgent need for more mental health and transition support for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

AP Photo/File
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TORONTO – Mental health became a growing concern for many Canadians in 2014. A spate of suicides within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in the past year, for example, prompted a lot of public attention on the care and services available to soldiers and their families.

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Meanwhile, Toronto and Saskatoon police forces expanded their mobile mental health crisis units in an effort to offer the mental health crisis service throughout each respective city.

Here’s a look at some of the initiatives, pledges and promises made in mental health in Canada in 2014.

Canadian Armed Forces and veterans

In 2014, veteran advocates continued to speak about the urgent need for more mental health and transition support for members of the CAF.

In August, a Statistic Canada study found that one in six CAF members have reportedly suffered symptoms associated with selected mental health or alcohol-related disorders.  A Global News investigation last spring shed light on the often torturous route facing veterans seeking help for mental illnesses that are all too often dismissed or overlooked.

READ MORE: 1 in 6 Canadian Forces members reports mental health or alcohol issues, says StatsCan

Initiative/pledge/promise: 

In June, 14 recommendations were released from a months-long review of the New Veterans Charter by a Parliamentary committee, including financial benefits for life for the most seriously disabled veterans.

READ MORE: MPs recommend benefits for life for seriously disabled veterans

Among some of the other promises made this year, in November, the federal government announced $200 million over six years to support mental health needs of military members, veterans and their families.

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces also stated that an additional $16.7 million in ongoing funds will be available to support forces members, veterans, and their families.

The announcement came just days after veterans learned that the federal department responsible for their care and benefits was unable to spend upwards of $1.1 billion of its budget over seven years.

READ MORE: MPs recommend benefits for life for seriously disabled veterans

What has been accomplished so far? 

In October, the federal government responded to the recommendations in a 15-page report, stating, “the government agrees that more can and must be done to enhance service delivery to ensure that injured veterans and their families are supported.”

Next steps:

  • The government also said it planned to address the recommendations made regarding the New Veteran Charter in a phased approach. (Note: The exact timeline on when these phases will be carried out is unknown. The full list of recommendations and government responses can be found here).
  • In response to the $200-million funding announcement, the federal government said that in the fall of 2015, Veterans Affairs Canada will open a new Halifax Operational Stress Injury clinic to provide full assessment, diagnosis and treatment services for veterans and their families who are living with operational stress injuries.
  • The government said local community locations will also be established in St. John’s, Chicoutimi, Pembroke, Brockville, Kelowna, Victoria and Montreal to speed access to mental health services for those with mental health injuries.

Initiative/pledge/promise: 

In November 2013, Ottawa announced that veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces who were medically release due to a service-related injury or illness would be given the top level of priority consideration for job openings in the public service.

Next steps:

  • Veterans Affairs Canada told Global News they hope that the Hiring Veterans Act will pass the Senate by mid-spring, which will “move injured veterans to the front of the line for federal public service jobs.”

WATCH: MP questions why Fantino still has a job in Ottawa in wake of Veterans cuts

Youth

Initiative/pledge/promise: 

In June, Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre launched the Family Navigation Project (FNP). The program partners clinically trained health professionals known as “navigators” with families and kids grappling with mental health and addictions struggles.

READ MORE: Toronto hospital launching project for youth mental health services

The new program said it would help families with kids between the ages of 13 and 26 located in the Greater Toronto Area. A long-term goal would see the program expand to the rest of the province.

What has been accomplished so far? 

Anthony Levitt, medical director and co-founder of the Family Navigation Project, said that although the project aimed to “navigate” for 125 families in its first year of operation, the need was so great that the program has reportedly helped over 450 families to date.

Levitt said the project is currently coordinating a province-wide “Think-Tank” in order to understand the many different ways that navigation can happen, to start to define these ways, and to begin a conversation among the many providers of navigation from across Ontario.

Next steps:

  • In 2015, FNP said it will develop three important new components. The first is creating a role for parents with lived experience as co-navigators. These parents will help support families as they go through the difficult process of finding care.
  • The second development will be focused on creating youth peer navigators who will engage with youth living with mental health illnesses and addictions and who are seeking support through the FNP program.
  • The third component is the development of a comprehensive database that tracks, in as close to real-time as possible, resources in the field of mental illness and addiction treatment in Ontario and beyond.

First responders

Initiative/pledge/promise: 

In October, Global News reported that 23 first responders across the country – 17 in Ontario – have died by suicide since April 29.

A long-awaited Ontario report on how to tackle trauma among first responders made 14 recommendations, one that included a PTSD conference take place in 2015.

What has been accomplished so far? 

Next steps:

  • Bill-2 has passed its first reading and will need the support of the government to become law, says a spokesperson from DiNovo’s office.
  • In March 2015, Ontario will host a summit on work-related traumatic mental stress that “will bring together representatives from a wide range of sectors to share experiences and best practices, and to learn from innovators in the field.”

WATCH: New questions about mental health assistance for first responders after an Ottawa police officer dies by suicide. Sean Mallen reports.

Mobile crisis units

Initiative/pledge/promise: 

Back in May, police and hospital staff announced the expansion of Toronto’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) program to cover all areas of the city.

READ MORE: Toronto police, hospitals to expand crisis intervention program

In November, the government of Saskatchewan expanded its innovative program that has police officers team up with mental health workers (PACT) and will allow two units to operate seven days a week in Saskatoon.

What has been accomplished so far? Since the program began, the unit has taken more than 80 mental health crises off the hands of the Saskatoon Police Service.

Workplace

Initiative/pledge/promise: 

In January, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) announced new initiatives to improve workplace mental health across Canada following the launch one year ago of the world’s first national Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

The voluntary Standard offers a framework of tools for employers to promote mental health and prevent psychological harm in the workplace. The latest announcement would track workplaces across Canada as they adopt the Standard over the next three years.

What has been accomplished so far? Last month, MHCC released Assembling the Pieces, a guide to help employers more easily implement the National Standard. Each organization that adopts the Standard has to demonstrate they are meeting the five key elements.

Next steps:

  • MHCC said the next steps include the collection of data and the release of interim case study project results in fall 2015.  The MHCC said it will continue to develop employer-friendly tools and hold workshops in major city centres across Canada between January and May 2015 to guide employers on their implementation journey.

If you, a family member or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, or you believe they may be suffering from severe depression and/or anxiety, there are many organizations available to help including the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention A lengthy list can be found here.

– With files from Carmen Chai, Erika Tucker and Laura Stone, Global News

© 2014 Shaw Media

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