Virtual mental health services and solutions have increasingly become critical areas of support during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a part of provincial mental health and addiction response package of over $147 million, the Ontario government plans to provide $15.4 million to expand virtual mental health and addictions support and build a connected system for easier access to people.
The plan is aiming to make it easier for Ontarians across the province to access resources, including internet-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, virtual addictions supports and virtual supports for health care workers. This funding is also expected to help provide virtual services for children and youth through the Kids Help Phone and Child and Youth Tele-Mental health services. Health care workers will also benefit from this investment and continue accessing virtual mental health services.
The pandemic has had severe impact on mental health of those already suffering due to prolonged physical distancing, financial uncertainty, and the fear for the well being of family members. Since the outbreak, life has increasingly become difficult for many people and families across Ontario, especially among those living with mental health and addictions challenges.
It is therefore important that this relief packages also aims to provide over $62.2 million funding in community-based mental health and addictions services and inter-professional primary care teams, with $30 million specifically marked to fund child and youth mental health services. The services which will benefit from these investments include local in-person and virtual community mental health and addictions services, housing and accommodation supports, capacity-building for front-line workers, peer supports and resources, and enhanced services through interprofessional primary care including Family Health Teams, Indigenous governed supports, and Community Health Centres.
As part of the extended Ontario’s Fall Preparedness Plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19, this investment will build on the $46.75 million in emergency funding for mental health and addiction services granted in the first phase of the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Ontario government has invested a total of up to $194 million in its COVID-19 mental health and addictions response and while this may be enough to weather the dark winter, a focused approach in building virtual healthcare capacity is required to truly affect a foundational change in healthcare in Ontario.