23 December, 2016

Prevention Of Mental Illness Not A Big Enough Priority, Says CMHA Central Exec.

Executive Director of CMHA Manitoba–central region, Jordan Friesen.


Around four per cent of healthcare dollars is spent on mental health services in Manitoba.

Executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Manitoba–central region, Jordan Friesen, calls it a systemic problem, not limited to the province.

“We see wait lists for services; we see long wait-times to access appropriate care; we see a general strain on the time of clinicians providing direct services,” said Friesen.

More than just more funding, Friesen would like to see prevention of mental illness become more important in the healthcare sector.

“Because the funds are limited,” he said, “a large chunk of them have to be dedicated to services that are assisting people who have already become ill. Whereas, we would like to see more funding dedicated towards initiatives that can promote good mental health and help people develop skills to maintain their good mental health and prevent mental illness.”

Prevention of mental illness is not a service people can easily find, and Friesen wants his branch of the CMHA to champion programs that make prevention available.

The CMHA—central region, based in Portage La Prairie, receives $57,000 from the province each year to invest in community outreach. This is the only hunk of cash in the budget Friesen can responsibly spend on programs that can get out in front of mental illness without depriving other essential area.

“I would like to see funds allocated specifically for promotion and prevention in the area of mental health,” said Friesen.

Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, strokes all receive significant promotion and prevention funding–there’s public awareness of these issues so that most people on the street could explain how to avoid a heart attack: diet, exercise, etc.

The investment has been made “upstream”, as Friesen said, to save money treating these issues by spending money to prevent them from happening.

“The concept is the same in mental health,” said Friesen, “except there hasn’t been the same push yet.”

In Winkler, Eden Health Care Services offers assistance, treatment and support, to people living with mental illness. Eden is nearly 50 years old, and its longest running service is acute psychiatric treatment. Other services came along later: supportive housing, employment programs, and counselling services.

“Across the health system we end up reacting to sickness,” said James Friesen, CEO of Eden Mental Health Services.

“It is important to always to always think [about] prevention.”

When Eden started providing supportive housing in the 1980’s, the goal was clear: offer better infrastructure to locals recovering/dealing with mental illness.

“If you provide someone with affordable, supportive housing,” said James, “there is less likelihood that the person is going to have greater issues with mental illness or physical health. The same thing with employment, if people can meaningful employment and stay employed, there’s less chance that a person will end up in a higher level of need.”

James agreed with Friesen that mental health care was under funded, and yet mental illness will affect 20 to 25 per cent of all people. The needs are growing.

“If we got seven per cent,” said James, “[it] would allow a much better service to occur.”

In the new year, Eden is implementing a new program aimed at helping families deal with mental illness and to become better caregivers.


CEO of Eden Health Care Services, James Friesen.