The case for universal mental healthcare

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author: katelynn kowalchuk | contributor


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I have a disorder that kills one in every ten people who suffer from it. My specialist appointments, which I’m supposed to attend weekly, cost $180 every session. That comes to $8,640 every year for life-saving treatment. This cost doesn’t include my medication, my other appointments, or any other supports I may need for me to function at the same level as the general population. However, the majority of my treatment is not covered under the Canada Health Act (1984) because it’s not deemed to be “medically necessary.” This is because I live with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

This disorder is characterized by long-term instability in relationships, an unstable sense of self, and volatile emotions. It affects every aspect of my daily life, from school, to work, to whether or not I have the energy to get out of bed on any given day. I am fortunate enough to have third-party insurance that covers around one-third of my therapy costs and my medication, but the reality is that I am the exception, not the rule. Many people I know don’t have insurance, and are forced to pay out of pocket for their appointments. Saskatchewan lacks mental health resources and professionals in our rural and Northern areas, and with the recent closure of STC, many people are left without access to life-saving treatment. Even if you are fortunate enough to live in a center with the resources you need, the stigma we face for mental health challenges is enough that some people forego treatment altogether.  

The fact that mental healthcare only receives around five per cent of all healthcare funding, when one in five Canadians will suffer from mental health challenges at some point in their life, is not only disappointing, but dangerous. Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of suicide in Canada, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for those aged 15-34. These numbers are even more dire for Indigenous peoples; First Nations women between the ages of 10 to 19 are 30 times more likely to die by suicide than other women of the same age.  Rampant mental illness and suicide are the unspoken realities in our province, but it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Ryan Meili, leader of the official opposition, announced in late September that the NDP would place emphasis on mental healthcare and addictions in the fall sitting of the legislature, including the creation of a critic role for that purpose. This is a step toward bringing these issues into the spotlight, but we must also have a plan of action. To me, this includes universal mental healthcare coverage, adopting the FSIN’s suicide prevention strategy, reducing wait times for mental health beds in hospitals, and providing incentives for mental healthcare professionals who work in rural or Northern areas. Mental healthcare should not be something that only those privileged few are able to access, and we all deserve better.  

[Editor’s  note: Katelynn is the newly-elected Vice President of the Provincial New Democrats] 

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