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Mental Health and Addictions - Expanding Supports for Ontarians

Archived Backgrounder

Mental Health and Addictions - Expanding Supports for Ontarians

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Many people in Ontario experience mental illness and/or substance abuse at some point in their lives.  

Through its plan, Open Minds, Healthy Minds: Ontario's Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, the province is committed to promoting positive mental health and well-being for Ontarians, preventing mental illness and promoting recovery.

The government continues to seek advice from its Mental Health and Addictions Leadership Advisory Council, which consists of representatives from diverse sectors, including mental health and addictions experts and people with lived experience. The council's next report is expected to be released early in 2017. 

Supporting people who are living with mental illness and addictions, as well as their caregivers, is a cross-government effort, which includes working closely with organizations that provide mental health and addictions services, and listening to people with lived experience. Listed below are some examples of the many ways Ontario is taking action.

Mental Health and Addictions Services and Supports

Ontario's investments in mental health and addictions services and supports are helping people to recover and be supported in welcoming communities, including:

  • Significantly expanding mental health facilities at hospitals and treatment centres across Ontario to help thousands more people annually, including in Toronto; Guelph and Wellington County; Barrie, Simcoe and North Muskoka; London; and Ottawa.
  • Expanding more integrated patient care by supporting hundreds of mental health and addictions professionals in family health teams, nurse practitioner-led clinics and community health centres.
  • Specialized training for health care providers to support better care for people living with mental illness. 
  • Expanded eating disorder treatment programs so that children and youth can receive the specialized care they need closer to home.
  • Funding the 24/7 Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol, and Problem Gambling Helplines.
  • Implementing evidence-based policies that promote prevention, social responsibility, harm reduction and treatment, such as those found in Ontario's first comprehensive opioid strategy and promoted through the Opioid Resource Hub.

Children and Youth

Provincially funded community-based child and youth mental health agencies are now serving more than 121,000 young people annually. Progress includes support for: 

  • Culturally appropriate mental health services for Indigenous children and youth. 
  • Almost 4,000 specialized consultations for children and youth in remote and rural areas through the Tele-Mental Health Service.
  • Kids Help Phone, which had more than 80,000 direct contacts with Ontario children and young people in 2015-16. 
  • More than 770 additional mental health workers in communities, schools and courts.
  • An online directory of publicly funded child and youth mental health services.
  • Youth life promotion and suicide prevention initiatives, including capacity building through the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health.
  • Youth-engagement initiatives, such as Children's Mental Health Ontario's The New Mentality youth engagement group, as well as the Youth Action Committee, made up of youth who work to develop youth-led mental health policy recommendations.
  • Better collaboration to bring together service providers across sectors to address specific mental health and addictions issues in communities.

Students, Schools, Colleges and Universities

Ontario works with school boards, postsecondary leaders and students to provide knowledge and tools about mental health and addictions issues, including:

  • Establishing the Good2Talk/Allo j'écoute mental health helpline for postsecondary students, which has assisted close to 53,000 callers to date.
  • Funding mental health leaders for all district school boards and School Authorities who coordinate school and student mental health initiatives.
  • Establishing School Mental Health ASSIST, which helps school boards build capacity to support student mental health, and creating an educator's guide and revised curriculum.
  • Investing in 34 postsecondary mental health projects to help institutions develop and pilot innovative ways of addressing the mental health needs of students.

Inclusion, Diversity and Equity

The province is committed to embedding equity in its work on mental health and addictions for marginalized populations, which include racialized communities, people living in poverty and LGBTQ populations, including:

  • Ensuring services are accessible and responsive to their needs by addressing the stigma and root causes of current and historical discrimination, which result in disparities in health outcomes. 
  • Supporting organizations like Across Boundaries, which offer a range of mental health and addiction programs and services in multiple languages to Indigenous and racialized communities, within frameworks that recognize and address the negative impact of racism, anti-Black and Indigenous racism on mental health and well-being.
  • Consistently applying an equity lens to the Open Minds, Healthy Minds strategy, including use of the Health Equity Impact Assessment tool.
  • Working with the Anti-Racism Directorate to identify shared opportunities to prevent and remove barriers, and achieve racial equity outcomes. 

French Language Services

Ontario is working collaboratively with organizations such as the French Language Health Services Advisory Council, and supporting collaboration between Francophone and other service providers, to improve access to mental health and addictions services for Franco-Ontarians.

Indigenous Communities

Due to the legacy of residential schools and other sources of inter-generational trauma, Indigenous communities face unique mental health and addictions challenges. Ontario is working with Indigenous partners and investing in programs and services to address the unique mental health and addiction needs of Indigenous people, families and communities.

In support of healing and wellness in Indigenous communities, the province is working with Indigenous communities to co-develop youth life-promotion initiatives that will support:

  • Holistic response/prevention combining clinical and cultural/land-based programming, to stabilize communities in crisis and provide training on suicide prevention and life promotion.
  • An expansion of the Tele-Mental Health Service to enhance outreach and support. 
  • Hiring Indigenous mental health and addictions workers to support students in federally funded schools.
  • Establishing up to six Indigenous mental health and addictions treatment and healing centres, both on and off-reserve.  
  • A province-wide expansion of a culturally appropriate helpline for Indigenous women.
  • A dedicated engagement process with Indigenous partners to ensure their input and advice is incorporated in the ongoing implementation of the Open Minds, Healthy Minds strategy.

Supportive Housing 

Ontario is helping people with mental illness and addictions with their recovery by increasing access to supportive housing.

  • Last year, funding was provided for almost 16,000 supportive housing units. Over the last three years, an additional 1,000 supportive housing units were created.
  • A commitment to create up 6,000 new spaces of supportive housing as a way to make progress on the goal to end chronic homelessness by 2025. This funding is targeted to four priority areas including youth, Indigenous, chronic homelessness and homelessness following transitions from provincially funded institutions and service systems such as jails and hospitals.

Justice System

Ontario is making the justice system more responsive to mental health and addictions and moving forward with reforms to the corrections system, including:

  • Improving interactions with police and enhancing front-line responses to people having a crisis, to keep people with mental illness out of the criminal justice system, by supporting locally determined response models, de-escalation training, local emergency room transition protocols between police services and hospitals across Ontario.
  • Expanding the availability of "safe beds," which provide emergency housing and high-intensity care for people experiencing a mental health crisis as an alternative to hospital or jail.
  • Hiring additional release from custody workers to help improve the reintegration of inmates with mental illness as they transition back into the community. 
  • Hiring additional mental health court support workers.
  • Examining alternatives to segregation for individuals with acute mental illness.
  • Developing training programs for detention centre staff to help them better manage seclusion protocols and people with mental illness.
  • Establishing the first dedicated mental health unit for female inmates.
  • Increasing the availability of clinical supports for inmates. 
  • Developing and implementing specific strategies to support the mental health and wellness of workers in the justice sector.
  • Providing more opportunities to identify community-based alternatives for people who need supports for mental health and addictions.
  • Expanding support for low-risk accused, who often have mental illness and do not have the finances or social ties to be released safely into the community on bail pending trial, to ensure they are supervised while in the community, attend court dates, meet their bail conditions and help them navigate the criminal court process.

Sexual Violence and Mental Health

It's Never Okay, Ontario's Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan guides the province's commitment to provide better supports for survivors, including support for training that helps frontline health and community workers to improve their skills in responding to people who have experienced sexual violence and support their recovery.

Workplace and Employment

The province is taking steps to bring the issues of mental health in the workplace to the forefront and support adequate programs to help those facing these challenges, including:

  • Passing legislation that ensures first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can get faster access to WSIB benefits, resources and timely treatment. 
  • Launching an awareness campaign, annual leadership summit, online toolkit and research grants, with a focus on preventing and addressing PTSD, and reducing the stigma that can prevent those in need from seeking help. 
  • Ongoing support for occupational health and safety programs, resources and training initiatives related to workplace mental wellness in sectors, including in resource-based industries, Indigenous communities, paramedics, retirement homes and non-profits. 
  • Identifying mental health as a key priority for occupational health and safety research grants and funding innovation projects. 
  • Investing in 150 community-based and provincial agencies whose supports and services can help people with mental illness and addictions overcome barriers to employment and help them find, prepare for and maintain a job. For example, Rise Asset Development provides microfinancing and mentorship to persons living with mental illness and addiction who are interested in pursuing self-employment.
  • Developing a provincial employment strategy for people with disabilities, including those experiencing mental illness and/or addictions. 
  • Supporting the Addictions Services Initiative to help Ontario Works clients whose addictions are a barrier to employment. 
  • Supporting workplace programs to promote mental wellness and promoting tools and resources such as "Mental Health Works" from the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division and CivicAction's MINDS Matter.
  • Leading by example, with the Ontario Public Service's commitment to fostering a workplace culture that promotes psychological health and safety and reduces stigma by breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes of mental health. 

Newcomers and Refugees

Ontario invests in a range of services to support the integration of newly arrived refugees, including mental health counselling and supports, including:

  • Funding settlement agencies that provide mental health supports to refugees, including trauma counselling and education to raise awareness about mental health.
  • Supporting a training program delivered by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants on refugee mental health and trauma for front line settlement workers, to connect refugees experiencing mental health problems and with appropriate mental health services. This is helping the settlement sector respond more effectively to refugees settling in Ontario who have been exposed to traumatic experiences.
  • Investing in the School Mental Health ASSIST program to create mental health resources as required to support Syrian newcomer students.  

Research, Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building 

To promote more effective mental health and addictions services and capacity, Ontario supports innovative research and knowledge sharing, including:

  • Investing in the Pharmacogenetics Program that looks at how patients' genetic information will enable more personalized treatment plans, reducing side effects. 
  • Funding the Ontario Brain Institute's research programs, which are aimed at improving brain health for people in Ontario. Specifically, the Canadian Biomarkers in Depression (CAN-BIND) Program is aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of depression.
  • Supporting Health Quality Ontario's development and implementation of quality standards for mental health and addictions care. 
  • Continuing support for the ongoing delivery of quality improvement capacity-building initiatives with sector partners, including the Canadian Mental Health Association-Ontario, Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 
  • Mental health and addictions research funded through Ontario's competitive Health System Research Fund (HSRF). Examples of HSRF funded programs/projects include:
    • Examining the impact of low-income and poverty on the mental health of 10,000+ Ontario children and adolescents, to understand if children and families are receiving needed services and reduce risk for children's mental health problems.
    • Documenting, Assessing and Treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Refugee Children and Youth.
    • Evaluating Integrated Treatment for Pregnant and Parenting Women with Addictions.
    • Researching interventions for reducing non-traditional tobacco use in Aboriginal populations.
    • Understanding Social Determinants of Problem Gambling in the Ontario Population including Risk and Protective Factors.



Government Health and Wellness