Canadian mayors call for national mental health strategy

Published On April 16, 2018 | By ajeffrey | News

Policy solutions to mental health and addictions issues were discussed at Toronto’s summit of mayors on April 9. This included Vancouver’s safe injection sites to as a response to addiction issues in neighbourhoods such as the Downtown Eastside (Image Credit: Wikimedia)

Andrew Jeffrey

National benchmarks to guide Canada’s efforts to improve mental health issues in urban centres were called for by Canadian mayors at a Toronto summit.

The summit of six mayors came together to call for a federal strategy to address the issue, as they say Canadian cities have felt increasing strain from the burden of addiction and mental health problems in their communities.

The civic leaders in attendance, hosted by Toronto mayor John Tory, called for more cooperation between federal and provincial ministries to achieve this goal.

Tory and other mayors from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors’ Caucus met  on April 9 for the Mental Health and Cities Summit at the University of Toronto. The local leaders came from Vancouver, St. John’s, Windsor, Kitchener and Mississauga.

“Cities across Canada are finding ourselves increasingly on the frontlines of unmet mental health needs that are placing stress on our budgets to provide services to our diverse residents in all our neighbourhoods,” Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said.

Tory raised the issue of mental health at a past Big City Mayors’ Caucus meeting before calling this summit to explore the issue in greater detail.

Along with examining the impacts of mental health struggles in their communities, related discussions covered mental health first aid, homelessness, substance abuse, the role of data in health policy development, and mental health in schools and workplaces.

Each mayor gave a presentation to the summit sharing the specific mental health and addiction issues that have impacted their cities and the policy solutions implemented in response. This ranged from Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson discussing the opioid crisis in Vancouver to Crombie discussing homelessness in the Peel Region.

“Our police forces are dealing with issues that they’re unequipped to deal with, they’re not funded to deal with. The calls they receive on 9-1-1 are very often mental health related,” Crombie said.

“More and more, we rely on the police rather than social workers to deal with mental health issues, and it is a cost and a burden to our budget,” she said. “These issues are really taxing our ability to provide other programs and services.”

The event was held in partnership with Toronto Public Health, the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction and the Wellesley Institute among other Toronto-based organizations. Representatives of these organizations spoke at the summit offering expert input on the topic of mental health and addictions.

“TPH supported the summit by helping to identify key mental health promotion issues, the context of those issues from a public health perspective and identified experts to invite to speak about these areas,” said Linda Ferguson, Toronto Public Health manager of the mental health program, via email.

Aside from partnering more heavily with these organizations in their own municipalities to alleviate mental health issues, the mayors hope a centralized program can exist as collaboration between the federal and provincial governments to influence mental health initiatives across the country.

“What we’ve seen in the past is when the mayors of large cities come together and speak in one unified voice, the federal and provincial leaders listen,” Crombie said. “It’s an attempt to put an issue on the national agenda for discussion in the same way we did with infrastructure, transit and affordable housing.”

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