What’s the issue? Mental illnesses and addictions are a global issue that represents a major public health problem in Canada. Approximately 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness or addiction in a given year; 50% in their lifetime. The cost to society of mental illnesses was more than 50 billion dollars in 2006 and has likely increased since then along with rising health care costs.
One reason costs are so high is because mental illnesses and addictions affect multiple aspects of society, including the workplace, social services, the criminal justice system as well as the health care system.
Another reason for high costs is the incidence and complexity of depression. As the most prevalent mental illness in Canada, depression is a significant source of costs due to:
- the sheer number of people affected (4.8% of Canadians aged 15 and up report that they have depression)
- the chronic nature of depression (most people experiencing one or more episodes)
- the course of depression (episodes typically lasting 3-4 months each, with typical onset in the late teens/early twenties)
Approximately 60% of Canadians with mental illnesses do not receive treatment. The treatment rate for addictions is even lower.
“The tragedy is not that so many people struggle with mental health problems; the tragedy is that we are still not able to make available to everyone who needs them the services and supports that we know are effective.”
– The Honorable Michael Kirby, former senator and chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada
But treatment is only part of the solution. Reducing the burden of mental illnesses and addictions on individuals, and Canada as a whole, requires the right balance of funding for promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. Also, improving social, environmental, and financial supports for people with mental illnesses and addictions will improve their chances of recovery.