Quebec is hoping to reduce wait lists and widen access to help by injecting $100 million into mental health services as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues, an announcement that was pushed up following a deadly sword attack in the province’s capital that killed two and left five injured.
Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant, who announced the initiative Monday, said the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis has been hard on Quebecers as they make efforts to curb the spread of the virus and face restrictions.
“We are taking this issue seriously,” he said.
Yet, Carmant maintained there is no mental health crisis in Quebec as he did last week when unveiling a plan to support the province’s youth.
“The situation is worrisome, but I think it’s under control,” he told reporters. “That’s why I avoided the term crisis.”
Under the plan, $35 million will go toward widening access to mental health services in Quebec. The province will also use $19 million to create a team on the ground to work with “vulnerable clientele” and promote early interventions.
There is also $10 million set aside to help young people between the ages of 17 and 34 in universities and CEGEPs.
Of the funding, $10 million will go towards community organizations devoted to mental health.
The announcement was initially supposed to take place next week during the government’s economic update to address the novel coronavirus pandemic, but Carmant said it was moved up after two people were killed in fatal stabbings in Quebec City on Halloween night.
Quebec Premier François Legault said the stabbings raise “all kinds of questions” about mental illness, but he said while services need to improve, it’s impossible to avoid all such tragedies.
“We have to be realistic,” he said.
On Sunday, Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said extra mental health supports have been made available for those in the province’s capital.
‘Fragile balance’ between COVID-19 measures, mental health
The announcement comes after Legault said earlier Monday that the province is striving to find a balance between public health restrictions and putting pressure on Quebecers’ mental health.
Legault says his government is worried the pandemic is causing a rise in mental health problems and says it is hiring more therapists and psychologists to meet people’s needs.
But the premier also said the daily tally of new COVID-19 cases remains too high to ease restrictions in designated red zones, like Montreal and Quebec City.
“I would really like to lift the measures but currently we haven’t seen a significant drop in cases,” he said. “So we hope in the coming days, in the coming weeks, there will be one.”
— With files from the Canadian Press