Speaking Notes for The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health: Canadian Mental Health Association 2nd Annual Mental Health for All Conference “It Takes a Nation”

September 18, 2017
Toronto, Ontario

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Good morning and welcome everyone.

Let me begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee [howden oh SAWnee], and, most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, who are represented here today.

Thank you Elder Peter Schuler for your participation in these opening ceremonies.

Today is very special for me. It is my first speech as minister of Health, and I am very glad its focus is Mental Health. This is an issue that is near and dear to me.

You know – When the Prime Minister asked me to take on this role, I was impressed by the portfolio, even more so because of its impact on Mental Health.
To be honest, the very first thing that came to mind was how much I looked forward to building on the work done by my predecessor Jane Philpott in this area.

Some of you may know that I’m a career social worker. I dedicated 25 years to working in the community and helping with issues first responders deal with every day. These experiences taught me one very important lesson: that collaboration with service providers is essential to better care for patients.

In my role, I look forward to taking part in events like today, that provide important opportunities for diverse groups of professionals to come together and take a moment to reflect on what’s being done across the country, to discuss how we can remove barriers to access, and share some of the innovative ways in which we can tackle mental illness.

I was proud to provide counselling to people who were victims of crime, particularly where trauma was apparent. In these decades I learned and shared the values of compassion with my colleagues and worked to break the stigma that is often associated with mental health.

I also volunteered with several organizations dedicated to helping victims of crime and people struggling with mental illness. This included the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Suicide Prevention Committee in Moncton.

Through my work and my time as a volunteer, I saw first-hand the effects of trauma, stigma and problematic substance use on individuals.

But I also saw that some of these same individuals—when provided with appropriate supports and services—can survive and ultimately thrive.

Today, I would like to focus on three themes:

1. Discuss the state of mental health in Canada, both nationally and, more particularly, in Indigenous communities.
2. Share what the Government of Canada is doing to help Canadians access mental health supports and to address social inequities that influence health.
3. Call upon all of us to help end the stigma of mental illness, which prevents many from seeking help.
1- Current state of mental health

When it comes to mental health, the Canadian landscape is grim:
• More than 10 Canadians die by suicide each day.
• 1 in 3 Canadians report having experienced some form of maltreatment as a child-including physical abuse, sexual abuse or exposure to violence at home.
o In fact, family violence accounts for more than a quarter of violent crimes reported to police.
• Mental health issues affect not only individuals and families, but communities and society overall. It is estimated that depression and anxiety cost the Canadian economy almost $50 billion per year in lost productivity.

These facts are a stark reminder to all of us of the work that remains…. work that cannot be done alone by any one government department or agency, charitable group or private organization. This is well-reflected in the theme of this conference: “It takes a nation.” I think that all of us — health professionals, social workers, advocates, and people with lived and living experience — would agree that as a country, we need to do more to help those experiencing mental illness.

At the same time, we need to acknowledge the progress that we have made. As a society, we’re now speaking openly and frankly about our mental health. We have realized the importance of mental wellness as an indicator of good health, as well as the depth and breadth of the challenges we face and the need for collective action. This elevated level of realization, in and of itself, represents significant strides.

I stand before you today as Minister of Health, representing a Government that believes strongly in advancing the work that needs to be done on mental health. Mental illness has come out of the shadows.
2- Actions taken by the Government of Canada

Increasing access to mental health services

As you know, our Government reached agreement with all provinces and territories that will see historic investments in mental health over the next 10 years.

We’ve committed $5 billion of new, targeted funding to improve access to mental health and addiction services across Canada. This is the first time that such a significant investment has been dedicated to mental health.

The federal government, and the provinces and territories endorsed a Common Statement of Principles on Shared Health Priorities, which sets out key areas of action, including on mental health and addictions.

I look forward to the next step of these agreements which aims to establish a set of meaningful indicators for Canadians to understand how we are doing with our integration of mental health services.

But improving access to mental health services through better integration within the overall health systems is just one part of the solution. We must also address the impact of social determinants of health on Canadians’ mental health.

Social determinants of health

We know that health, including mental health, is influenced by a number of social, economic and environmental factors—what we call social determinants of health. These factors include housing, education, and access to employment.

Our Government understands that we need to reduce poverty, enhance early learning, and increase access to housing.

To this end, we are committed to developing a Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy, to reduce poverty and improve the economic well-being of all Canadian families so that they can have a real and fair chance to succeed.

In Budget 2017, we committed $11.2 billion in new funding over 11 years as part of a National Housing Strategy. This strategy is designed to build, renew and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing and to help ensure that Canadians have housing that meets their needs. Those among us dealing with mental illness are one of the priority groups identified.

Our Government introduced the Canada Child Benefit, which provides support to those who need it most, such as single-parent and low-income families. Today, thanks to this initiative, about 300,000 fewer children live below the poverty line.

And we are working with provinces and territories, the private sector, and educational institutions to explore new approaches to skills development and innovation.

These are just a few examples of our Government’s actions to improve Canadians’ quality of life and, by extension, their mental health. While these are important steps, we know that we must continue to invest in all areas in pursuit of social equity, and that there remains much work to be done.

Supports for indigenous peoples

Nowhere is the need for social equity more urgent than in Canada’s Indigenous communities.

The harsh reality — and one that must change — is that Canada’s Indigenous populations experience undeniable gaps in health and mental health outcomes compared to non-Indigenous Canadians.

And for this, the crown must bear a large measure of responsibility. Indigenous people have suffered from both negligence and systemic discrimination, including in their access to health care.

This reality has been made worse by poor housing conditions, unemployment, lack of education and community infrastructure, and the legacy of residential schools. Combined, these factors have significantly impacted mental health outcomes in these communities.

First Nations youth die by suicide about 5 to 6 times more often than non-Aboriginal youth. The situation is even more dire for Inuit youth, who die by suicide at a rate that is among the highest in the world.

To begin to reverse this legacy of neglect and discrimination, Budget 2017 committed $828 million in new investments to improve the health outcomes of First Nations and Inuit.

As well, the Prime Minister’s recent decision to create two new departments to better respond to Indigenous issues demonstrates this Government’s resolve to move beyond the structures and institutions of the past that have characterized our relationships with Indigenous peoples to this day.

As part of this historic shift in focus, my predecessor at Health Canada, Minister Philpott has been called upon to improve service delivery and reduce the unacceptable health and social inequalities that these communities face. I look forward to working with her in her new role to deliver on our promise to improve the living conditions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.

In addition to the yearly investments to fund programs and services to improve mental health for First Nations and Inuit, our Government announced an additional $69 million over three years to support local mental wellness teams, crisis intervention teams, and the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line. To date, the Help Line has received more than 2,000 calls.

And in Budget 2017, the Government pledged an additional $118.2 million over five years to improve mental health services for First Nations and Inuit.

These significant investments build on existing programming within my own Health Portfolio dedicated to promoting mental health among Indigenous populations.

For example, Health Canada provides funding for the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy to support approximately 138 community-based youth suicide prevention projects in First Nations and Inuit communities across Canada.

And Health Canada provided $9 million to the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Suicide Prevention Strategy, which delivers dedicated mental health resources and services to Inuit populations.

The Public Health Agency of Canada supports a range of programs and activities that focus on the factors that lead to positive mental health. For example, maternal and child health programs help build resilience in vulnerable young children and families by supporting positive parenting, family attachment, and healthy relationships. Many of these programs emphasize cultural literacy and support for Indigenous women, children and families.

While existing programs and new investments are an important part of our efforts to redress inequities that have impacted Indigenous peoples for generations, much more needs to be done.

Opioid crisis

One additional area that bears acknowledgement in this discussion is the link between mental illness, problematic substance use, and the opioid crisis.

While poor mental health is not the only reason behind our current opioid crisis, it is certainly a factor.

In 2016, there were more than 2,800 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada. Our most recent data suggest that the number of opioid-related deaths will almost certainly exceed 3,000. To put this in perspective, that’s almost double the number of motor vehicle fatalities in all of Canada for 2014.

This is an unacceptable tragedy. These aren’t just numbers; they are people with their own personal story of unaddressed needs. And that is why the federal government is committed to a compassionate, harm-reducing, comprehensive and collaborative approach to the opioid crisis. We will continue to show leadership and work with health professionals, addiction experts, people with lived and living experience, people with chronic pain, provinces, territories and municipalities to address this crisis and the underlying causes of problematic substance use.

3- Reducing stigma

As with substance use disorder, we need to acknowledge—and work towards ending—the stigma associated with mental health. We would never say to a friend or loved one that they need to “just get over it” when diagnosed with cancer or another disease affecting physical health. So why would it be okay to use that kind of language with someone facing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or suicidal thoughts?

Stigma is a barrier that discourages people from seeking help or from offering support to someone in need.

Initiatives such as Bell Let’s Talk are helping to tackle the stigma that surrounds mental health. A 2015 Nielsen survey undertaken on behalf of Bell Let’s Talk found that 81% of Canadians were more aware of mental health issues than they were in 2010, and 57% believe the stigma around mental illness has been reduced.

I applaud the work of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which works to support suicide prevention, address problematic substance use, and increase Canadians’ understanding of mental health issues.

We are also seeing progress in eliminating the barrier of stigma within the Government. In addition to the initiatives I mentioned earlier, our Government is committed to helping those facing the challenges of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

For example, Veterans Affairs Canada plans to create a new Centre of Excellence in Veterans’ care, specializing in mental health, PTSD and related issues for Veterans.

As others have said, mental illness is a sickness, not a weakness.

In closing, let me return to our theme today: “It Takes a Nation.” All of us in Canada can and must do more to help improve our collective mental health. We are far from being a world leader in this area. We’re now doubling efforts by working with provinces and territories, and making targeted investments to take better care of Canadians suffering from mental illness.

We need to go beyond the health sector to promote mental health in schools, workplaces and communities across Canada. An event like today, is an important opportunity to underscore the positive impact we can all have on each other by listening a little longer, by showing more compassion and by talking openly about mental health.

We need to improve access to quality services, and we need to collaborate across regions, professions and jurisdictions to strengthen Canada’s approach to this challenge.

I thank the Canadian Mental Health Association for organizing this conference. Today you’re providing a meaningful opportunity for people from across the country to build partnerships and explore sustainable ways to improve mental health and promote mental wellness.

I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

Thank you all for shining a light on mental illness, facing these challenges head on, and providing hope and recovery to millions of Canadians.

Thank you, merci.


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