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Ontario NDP promise universal mental health care if elected

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Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath announced a key pillar of her party’s platform at an event in Toronto on Sunday.

She said her party would expand OHIP coverage to include universal mental health care and work to remove barriers to access if it wins election in June.

The policy would include free access to counselling and therapy services not currently covered.

While some forms of mental health treatment are covered by the province, such as treatment by a psychiatrist or by a psychologist or social worker within a hospital, services such as private psychotherapy or counselling are not.

“Mental health care is health care,” Horwath said in a statement. “And together, we can do so much better. We can take action to fix it — so in Ontario, you’ll get mental health care with your OHIP card, not your credit card.”

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Horwath said existing community mental health providers would be the first to be brought into the plan and offered public funding. OHIP would be amended to allow a maximum of six therapy sessions, rising to 12 for patients who need it, the NDP said.

The party said it will also introduce legislation to recognize mental health as equally important to physical health.

“Friends, we know mental health is every bit as important to our wellbeing as physical health,” Horwath told supporters. “We know the pain is just as real as physical pain.”

Last week, the Ontario Liberals promised a series of new policies, including 10 paid sick days and a higher minimum wage.

The Liberals also promised to create a “package of portable benefits for all.”

The party said the package would be affordable for everyone and could be used by self-employed people, gig workers and contract workers.

The governing Progressive Conservatives promised to invest $3.8 billion across the next decade “to develop and implement a comprehensive and connected mental health and addictions system for Ontarians.”

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The Ontario NDP also said it  would reduce the waitlist for children seeking mental health support to 30 days. The party said the current wait time is two months for children who want counselling.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) said young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness or substance use disorders than any other age group.

The party promised $15 million per year for children’s mental health, rising to $58 million in 2023-24.

They are also promising to create Mental Health Ontario, describing it as an organization to identify and report on mental health needs, develop a comprehensive wait-list for services and establish standards.

These investments will yield long-term savings, the Ontario NDP said.

“Proactive and preventative mental health care can help reduce pressures on emergency rooms and first responders,” the party’s policy document said.

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— with files from The Canadian Press

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