With Toronto’s byelection for mayor happening amidst the largest mental-health crisis our city has ever faced, health-care professionals are hopeful that candidates will be addressing this key issue.
CAMH calls for action
Doctors at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental-health teaching hospital, are challenging the mayoral candidates to address the mental health and addiction crisis that is plaguing our city.
“Our health system and social system have reached a breaking point,” said Dr. David Gratzer, a psychiatrist and co-chief of the General Adult Psychiatry and Health Systems Division at CAMH, in a story on the hospital’s website.
CAMH shared that the number of youth visiting their hospital’s emergency department with substance use-related problems increased by 50 per cent between July 2022 until January 2023, and more than 10,000 Torontonians were reported homeless between November 2022 and January 2023.
These post-pandemic statistics suggest the people of Toronto are facing a mental-health crisis that does not discriminate against age, gender, or class — it affects everyone.
Addressing post-pandemic mental health
“Working in the homeless sector in Toronto, I have definitely witnessed an increase in drug use and related overdoses, mental health episodes, deaths by suicide, and increased homelessness,” said Elizabeth Milot, a social service counsellor for the City of Toronto.
“Being socially isolated has taken a toll on many, along with the worry about contracting COVID-19,” she said. “In-person services converting to virtual or phone support also disadvantaged people in need.”
Publicly versus privately funded services
Milot said that having limited access to essential critical services, long wait lists, and the high cost of therapy can be detrimental to those in crisis.
Amber Cohen, the owner and director of the The Cohen Clinic, said privately funded services have also seen an increased demand for mental-health treatment post pandemic. However, in the midst of this mental-health crisis, both publicly and privately funded services have their flaws.
“Private mental-health care is costly (and) if someone does not have the financial resources or insurance benefits to cover the costs of private mental health care, their low fee resources are limited,” said Cohen.
However, publicly funded services often have long wait lists and do not always allow for people to be seen at their time of crisis, Cohen added.
Addressing homelessness and mental-health issues
When asked about homelessness and the mental health crisis in Toronto, leading mayoral candidate Ana Bailão said that the answer to homelessness in Toronto is housing.
If elected, she promises to “double the number of modular homes built in Toronto with a goal of 1,000 new homes by 2031, invest $5 million to move vulnerable residents living outside out of homelessness, (and) expand the Toronto Community Crisis Service, which provides trained mental health professionals as an alternate response to police for people in crisis.”
Mayoral candidate and former Toronto police chief, Mark Saunders, said that the homelessness and mental health crisis in Toronto needs a “wrap around strategy” that provides a better relationship between the city, public health, and community groups.
If elected, Saunders said he would increase the number of mobile crisis-response teams to provide 24-hour response and provide free space in unused city-owned buildings for non-profits that provide addiction treatment and want to expand their services.
What do young voters think?
Raenelle Shaw, a nursing student and resident of Toronto, said that when considering her vote, funding for mental health is extremely important.
“Mental health is becoming more and more prevalent, especially in young adults, and it is imperative that we are able to have access to all of the right resources and tools needed to take care of mental health issues,” she said.
Why funding matters
“With recent cuts to mental-health supports, instances of death by suicide, addiction, violence, and homelessness have increased substantially,” Milot said. “Funding from all levels of government is imperative,” she added.