The Negative Consequences of Canada’s Mental Health Industrial Complex

By Marvin Ross

Back in July, I wrote about the Mental Health Industrial Complex and pointed out that  there are all manner of policy researchers, policy wonks, government officials, social workers, psychologists and god knows who else, sitting around on committees and writing papers trying to develop solutions for what they call mental health. It is a giant make work project for people.

Thanks to the Fraser Institute, the consequences of these activities are exposed in their recently released study Mental Health Care How is Canada Doing? The answer is badly!

Their conclusion is that “the performance of Canada’s mental health care system is not an overwhelmingly positive one.”

The evaluation involved comparing Canada to 27 countries with high-income nations that also have similar policy goals. The Criteria for inclusion in the study was that countries must be a member nation of the OECD; They must have universal (or near universal) coverage for core medical services; and they must, according to the World Bank, be considered a higher-income country with a gross national per capita income of at least US$12,535 in 2019.

However, before looking at that comparison, it is important to review the deterioration in Canada over the years.

The Fraser Institute noted that “From 2003 to 2005, the wait time for seeing a psychiatrist on an urgent basis after GP referral averaged 2.0 weeks, and grew to 2.6 weeks between 2020 and 2022. For non-urgent patients, the wait time averaged 8.0 weeks from 2003 to 2005, and deteriorated to 9.2 weeks between 2020 and 2022 . For treatment on a non-urgent basis after an initial consultation, Canadians could expect to wait an average of 10.4 weeks between 2003 and 2005, and an average of 15.5 weeks between 2020 and 2022 . Overall, the total wait time from GP referral to treatment by a specialist deteriorated from 18.3 weeks between 2003 and 2005 to 24.7 weeks between 2020 and 2022.”

In addition “Survey data from the Commonwealth Fund shows Canadians were the 2nd least likely among respondents from 10 higher-income countries to report being able to get a primary-care appointment on the same day they are sick, and the 3rd least likely to find care after hours. Canadians were also the least likely to receive a same day callback from their regular physician’s office when reporting a concern during regular office hours.”

Canada does spend a lot on health care but has little to show for it compared to other wealthy countries. The Fraser institute pointed out that:

In 2019, Canada ranked 23rd out of 28 countries for the availability of psychiatric care beds per 1,000 population. Canadians had access to 0.36 psychiatric care beds per 1,000 population, while patients in Japan had access to 2.59, patients in Belgium had access to 1.41, and patients in Germany had access to 1.31. The average developed nation maintained 0.75 beds per 1,000 population, more than double the number in Canada. While there may be important differences in care approaches among nations, in particular — by design in some nations — a much greater reliance on outpatient care that results in the need for fewer hospital beds, Canada nevertheless has relatively fewer resources available for patients needing hospitalization than the average developed nation with a universal-access health care system.

Despite that, we do better when it comes to psychologists at only slightly below average of other countries and above average for mental health nurses. But, the shocking finding is spending. It is well known that Canada spends less on mental health services at only 7% while France spends 15%, England 13% and Germany 11%. What came as a total surprise is that the funds devoted to mental health as a percentage of total health spending in Canada was very high. 10.6% of spending went to mental health services when the average for the other countries was only 7.4%

The bottom line is that we spend more of our health dollars on mental health but have very little to show for it. And I am convinced that a big cause of that is all the money we spend on commissions, consultants, task forces all of which hire researchers, policy specialists and other useless bureaucrats who contribute nothing to the care of sick people.

Since writing the mental health industrial complex, I’ve learned that the Standards Council of Canada Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions which has been contemplating the state of care in Canada has hired the PR consulting firm, Hill and Knowlton to survey users to see what is needed. Hill and Knowlton is a US public relations and consulting company based in New York City with 80 offices in 40 countries. They are most noted for the false testimony by Nayirah and a PR campaign on behalf of the Government of Kuwait in the lead up to the Gulf War. That false testimony was that Iraqi soldiers were killing premature babies in Kuwait hospitals.

Rather than running a make work program for researchers and policy types and filling the coffers of consultants, that money should be diverted to actual programs and staff who can help the mentally ill and those with addictions.

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