Mental health issues still less likely to be treated like disabilities

by Leo Almazora26 Sep 2018

Public awareness of mental health has risen over recent years, but that hasn’t translated into proper recognition and treatment of mental health issues.

A new poll conducted by RBC Insurance revealed that Canadians are still more likely to view physical maladies as disabilities compared to mental health concerns. Fewer than half of respondent considered depression (47%) and anxiety (36%) as disabilities, in contrast to those who held that view on multiple sclerosis (65%) and physical accidents (65%).

“What most Canadians don't realize is that mental illness causes the majority of disabilities,” said Maria Winslow, senior director, life & health, RBC Insurance. “In fact, almost one-third of group disability claims at RBC Insurance are related to mental health, and that number is higher if you count physical disabilities that lead to mental health concerns.”

Despite the tilt toward physical issues in viewing disability, RBC Insurance found that 30% of working Canadians who have taken time off for a disability said it was due to a mental illness. And if recent figures from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) are anything to go by, that number could be on the low side of reality.

In a survey accompanying their policy paper titled Mental Health in the Balance: Ending the Health Care Disparity in Canada, CMHA said that 53% of Canadians — and 59% of those aged 18 to 34 —considered anxiety and depression to be “epidemic” in Canada.

“Our universal health-care system is a point of pride for Canadians,” says Dr. Patrick Smith, national CEO, CMHA. “But the reality is, we don't have a universal health-care system, but a universal medical system that doesn't guarantee access to some of the most basic mental health services and supports.”

Eighty-five per cent of Canadians responding to the CMHA-commissioned survey also said that mental health services are among the most underfunded in Canada’s health system, and 86% agreed the Canadian government ought to provide the same level of funding for mental health as physical health.

CMHA said the mental-health response followed in other G7 countries is founded on evidence-based health care from addiction counsellors, psychologists, social workers, and specialized peer support workers. However, such services aren’t guaranteed through the Canadian public system, prompting Canadians to spend $950 million — 30% out of pocket — on counselling services each year.

Over 1.6 million Canadians report unmet mental-health care needs yearly in spite of recent ground-breaking mental-health funding commitments from the federal government, the association added.

“Canadians are suffering from health conditions that are preventable or manageable with the right supports,” CMHA’s Smith said. “By adopting and promoting a 'stepped-care approach' to mental health service delivery that matches people to the right services and supports to meet their needs, Canadians will have better access to the right care at the right time."


Related stories:
Canadian non-profit to analyze access to essential health services
Mental health tool kit for women launched