Ignoring Mental Health Problems Doubles Ontario's Expenditures for Use of Health Services

    Research shows that combining counselling services with health care
    causes dramatic decrease in health care costs

    TORONTO, Sept. 25 /CNW/ - Offering mental health counselling to at-risk
families saves taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in insured
health services, justice and child protection services and income support,
according to research from McMaster University. Yet counselling services
offered by Ontario's Family Service agencies have received no funding since it
was slashed in 1995.
    "Ignoring this issue is costing hundreds of thousands to other sectors,"
says Family Service Ontario Executive Director John Ellis. "Nearly half of
Ontario's budget is spent on health care. Yet social and mental health issues,
which are the biggest determinants of health, play poor second cousins in
terms of funding. It doesn't make sense."
    Dr. Gina Browne, Founder and Director of the System-Linked Research Unit
Health and Social Service Utilization at McMaster University in Hamilton
suggests that the government should develop strategic alliances with Family
Service agencies, an untapped resource of highly skilled personnel, to address
this need. "The patients with physical problems and co-existing, unrecognized
and untreated mental health and social problems can consume double the
expenditures for health services compared to those ill without co-occurring
mental health or social problems," says Dr. Browne. "For example, 60% of
people on social assistance have two or more mental health conditions, an
underestimate. Adding counselling services to health care for seniors, single
parents, children in at-risk families and people suffering from chronic
illness reduces health care costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars a year."
    Dr. Browne pointed out that emotional distress, family violence, job
loss, or child behavioural problems can affect anyone in any culture or at any
economic level. In fact, 25% of people will experience mental health problems
in their lifetime, and 25% of our health care budget is spent treating the
consequences. According to the Canadian Institute on Health Information (Fall
2007, Health of the Nation), mental health issues are poised to take over
cardiac problems as the leading cause of health costs if governments ignore
the need to address family health issues.
    Family Service agencies across Ontario have a 75-year history of
providing family counselling, seniors programs, credit counselling, and
support for new and low-income Ontarians to help them succeed in the
workforce. In 1995, funding for Family Counselling Services was cut, leaving
Family Service agencies scrambling for funding. Mr. Ellis says that Family
Service agencies need to have their funding restored so that Ontario's
disadvantaged families can rebuild their lives. Family Service agencies need
an investment of $25 million over three years. With this funding, they could
help 25,000 families in need by providing 12 counselling sessions for
    "Counselling works, yet our society still tends to act as though our
bodies and our minds are independent of each other," Mr. Ellis says. "The
McMaster research shows how dealing with mental health problems can improve
outcomes and reduce the pressure on the health care system." Ellis admits he
is frustrated that Family Service agencies have the skill, personnel, and
ability but not the funds to address the pressures of spousal and child abuse,
child neglect, substance abuse, addictions, social isolation, unemployment,
children with behavioural and/or learning difficulties and breakdown of
physical and mental health.
    450,000 Ontario individuals, couples and families struggle with
difficulties such as poverty, family dysfunction, mental health problems and
abuse. 390,000 children live in these families, and 25% of these families are
experiencing the kinds of stress that put them at high-risk of needing more
expensive insured health services and other social services.
    Child Welfare authorities, Ontario Works, police and probation officers
and health care professionals say they are not equipped or have great
difficulty accessing services for low income, at risk families. The first
place they turn for assistance is Family Service agencies. Ignoring the
problem perpetuates the suffering and the cost to society. Family Service
agencies cannot keep up with the demands for service unless this critical
fiscal challenge is addressed by the government.
    In a letter to Family Service Ontario prior to the 2003 election,
McGuinty promised to address the funding issues of Family Service agencies in
his first mandate. Family Service agencies and the individuals, couples and
families they serve, have not heard a word.

For further information:

For further information: John Ellis, Executive Director, Family Service
Ontario, Tel: (416) 231-6003, E-mail: jellis@familyserviceontario.org,
www.familyserviceontario.org; Gina Browne, Ph.D., Reg.N., Founder and
Director, System-Linked Research Unit, Director, CLEAR Unit, Professor,
Nursing; Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics; and Ontario Training Centre in
Health Services and Policy Research (OTC), McMaster University, Tel: (905)
525-9140 Ext. 22293, E-mail: Gina.Browne@mcmaster.ca,

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