Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members, for the opportunity for the Mood Disorders Society of Canada to take part in this important meeting and to provide our comments to the committee.
Since 2001, MDSC has worked to help people with mental illness improve their quality of life. We work with the public, private, and voluntary sectors; those providing front-line primary care; educators; and people living with mental illness, their families, and caregivers. MDSC has engaged, on an ongoing basis, in major national projects, working closely with national, provincial, and regional partners.
As part of a national organization representing people with mental health issues, today I would like to be their voice at this table. To best reflect their views, I would like to provide you with key findings from two of our national mental health care surveys that consolidated their input.
In 2011 MDSC conducted a pan-Canadian mental health survey that received 3,125 responses. It is important to note that over 500 individuals took the added time to write out specific comments on the survey questions. The results told us that while there have been improvements in mental health care systems, many improvements are desperately still needed.
Of particular concern to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada was that 35% of the respondents indicated having to wait more than 12 months for a diagnosis. Comments cited the shortage of professionals available to diagnose and treat individuals with mental health issues. Fifty-two per cent of the respondents reported visiting a hospital emergency room because of their mental illness; 50% of those respondents indicated that they were moderately to extremely dissatisfied with the care they received in the emergency departments. Eighty-two per cent of respondents indicated that they were able to access the medications they needed to treat their mental illness; however, some of the respondents indicated that this meant going into debt, rationing drugs, and staying in stressful situations to take advantage of benefit programs.
We followed this up with a second survey in 2015, which received over 2,200 responses. Four years later we learned that of the top two priorities suggested for government action, 91% of respondents indicated that increasing access to mental health care professionals was their top priority, and 88% reported the need to focus on increasing community mental health services. When asked directly, 38% of respondents indicated that the time between initially seeking help and diagnosis exceeded 12 months. In the four years from 2011 to 2015, we actually got worse.
The majority of individuals have been dealing with mental illness for more than 10 years, either first-hand or through the provision of care for somebody experiencing mental illness.
We realize that the federal government cannot dictate to the provinces how to deliver health care services; however, we note that the negotiations for the health accord with the provinces, and the federal government's demands of the provinces to significantly increase expenditures on mental health care were very successful. A more unified approach to knowledge sharing and best practices replications are key to improving program availability and lowering development and delivery costs, and this should interest everybody.
The federal government is directly responsible for the health care of millions of Canadians—the RCMP, our armed forces, veterans, indigenous peoples, correctional workers, and the large federal workforce. The government can lead in health care transformation by supporting innovative foundational mental health programs that take new approaches, that address core issues identified by patients and caregivers themselves, and that support recovery and promote wellness, programs such as Project Trauma Support, located in Perth, Ontario, a week-long, concentrated program for military and first responders who have had their lives ravaged by PTSD. Project Trauma Support incorporates equine therapy, rope training, group psychotherapy, and peer support. The program allows participants to process their experiences and authentic emotions and to improve the lives of their families and peers in the process. The success that this program is having in changing and saving people's lives is incredible.
While professional help is very necessary, it's not always available at 8 p.m. or midnight when the person needs someone to talk to. With peer support programs, people have a network of peers who understand what they're going through because they've experienced the same things. Peer support programs also form a crucially important referral resource for community health care providers. There is not enough support for peer support programs across Canadian communities, leaving gaps in supports nationwide. Peer support programs have been scientifically evaluated and shown to be highly effective.
In 2013 MDSC signed a five-year contribution agreement with the Government of Canada, with project partners, the Mental Health Commission of Canada—