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Manitoba Advocate Lays Bare Mental Health Crisis: No Help for Over 90% of Young People

Manitoba Liberals say the Pallister Government needs to stop dragging its feet and implement all the recommendations of the latest report from the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth.

The report released today, which tells the story of 22 young people in Manitoba who took their own lives, is an indictment of years of failure by NDP and PC governments alike to provide mental health care to children - especially those who have experienced childhood trauma.

Manitoba Liberals say the figures in the report are shocking - including the fact, drawn from the government's own data, that more than 90% of young people who need addiction supports can't access them.

The Virgo Report indicated that 138,483 Manitoba youth and young adults need Tiers 2-5 services, while only 5,701 are able to access those services, reflecting that the system is only providing services to 4.1% of the youth and young adults who need them (see chart).

For the remaining tiers, the figures were not much better. Only 8.8% of young people could access care.

Compared to other provinces, Manitoba has far fewer mental health services. Liberals said this is an indictment of years of neglect of mental health services.

"We have known for many years that Manitoba has a weak mental health system, and this report lays that out all for all to see," said Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St. Boniface. "Mental health care is health care, and we are going to have to invest in these life-saving services whether there is a pandemic or not."

The report "Stop Giving me a Number and Start Giving Me a Person" emphasized that children who needed help only really improved when they engage with a person.

"This is a powerful warning against over-reliance on technology to try to provide counselling at lower cost, especially for young people", said Manitoba Liberal Health Critic Dr. Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights.

Instead of hiring local mental health practitioners to provide care during the current COVID-19 crisis, the Pallister Government contracted out to an Ontario-based HR company, but it is only available to people 16 and over.

"It is a tragedy when the current government has dibbled and dabbled in small initiatives, but has never explained how it is going to implement the VIRGO report," said Gerrard. "No child should be falling through the cracks, but the current system is so hard to navigate that children simply can't get access to care."

Under consecutive NDP and PC governments, there has been persistent underfunding of the youth mental health and addictions system in Manitoba.

Manitoba Liberals are calling on the government to increase funding and resources for mental health and to fully implement the recommendations in the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth's report.

- Implement a tiered model of care including case managers, system navigators, co-pilots and peer support workers with adequate well-trained staff - Make sure services are available across the province, not just in Winnipeg. - Create residential treatment facilities. - Make easy access and easy navigation of the system a priority

Manitoba Liberals also repeated their call to have psychological therapies included under Medicare.

"Psychotherapy is proven to be incredibly effective, especially combined with medication. Mental health care is health care. It's not enough to talk about mental health, it's time for governments to make sure that people can get mental health care when they need it. It will save lives," said Lamont.


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