Currently, five per cent of Saskatchewan’s health budget goes to mental health services. Health Minister Jim Reiter has said that will increase to seven per cent when the finances allow. Now, it appears the first steps to that increase will come in the April 10 provincial budget.
“You’ll see increased spending in mental health, absolutely,” Reiter said when asked about the upcoming budget.
The two per cent increase equals roughly an extra $100 million in mental health spending. Reiter says this is something that will have to be done incrementally over an undetermined amount of time.
“We need to take advantage of every federal grant dollar for this and supplement it with provincial money as well,” Reiter said.
This year’s federal grant money from the federal government was $3.1 million. The province chose to defer roughly half of it to future budget years.
The opposition NDP have long been calling on increased mental health resources, particularly in northern Saskatchewan where youth suicide is a major issue.
“It’s a bit concerning that these funds, what had been spent, had just gone to backfill existing programs, which really wouldn’t be the intent,” Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said.
“There are a number of programs, for example, the new Mental Health Assessment Unit, that are underfunded and are drawing funding from other areas when we’ve got this funding available from the federal government.”
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When asked to explain why the government calls mental health a priority, and why the federal funding was deferred, Minister Reiter says it’s about making sure there’s an area to spend the money they were allocated midway through the fiscal year.
“It’s not like you get dollars today can instantly spend it next week. There’s a recruitment process. If we expand programs, typically there’ll be recruiting new people,” Reiter said.
“We don’t want to just spend the money. We want to spend it where it’s going to do the most good, where it’s going to be targeted, where it’s going to help the most people.”
As for where that funding should go, the University of Saskatchewan Medical Student Society was at the Legislative Building on March 20, lobbying both sides of government with ideas.
Alison White said they are urging the government to act on the Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan, implementing the Children’s Advocate recommendations regarding the youth suicide crisis in the north, which includes new funds.
White said that all aspects of mental healthcare are underfunded, but there is an immediate priority for greater funding in youth care.
“We know this is the age where a lot of mental health disorders have their onset, so the best opportunity to reduce the number of mental health and addictions issues is to target children and youth,” she said.
This targeted approach includes focusing resources in areas children and youth can most likely be reached, such as schools.
The province has spent $1.68 million of their 2017/18 federal grant allotment of $3.1 million for mental health initiaitves.
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