TORONTO - Ontario's "fractured" system for dealing with those struggling with mental health and addiction problems needs a "radical transformation" if people are to receive the help they need, according to a new report backed by members of all three major political parties.
In a rare show of unity, Liberal, Conservative and NDP politicians banded together Thursday to urge the legislature to take action on mental health and addiction, including the creation of a new umbrella organization to co-ordinate mental health and addictions systems.
The agency, called Mental Health and Addictions Ontario, would report to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and would be responsible for designing, managing and co-ordinating the system to ensure that services are delivered consistently across the province, the all-party committee said.
The committee's members, who spent 18 months developing the action plan, said they were changed by the stories they heard from families and people dealing with mental health and addiction issues.
One mother slept by the door each night to stop her son from slipping out to buy drugs, said Liberal Kevin Flynn, who chaired the committee.
"She had to sleep basically on the floor to make sure that the only way out of that house was through that door, and that kid had to go over the mother to get out, and she wasn't moving," he said.
"That's the one issue that I think really sticks out in my mind; the sort of things people are dealing with in the privacy of their own homes that a lot of us just don't know about."
The horror stories didn't end there.
One man spoke about how he'd gone through some mental health issues as a child, but wasn't told about them as an adult.
As the man told his story, it became apparent that he'd spent some time in jail, said Flynn. But no one was prepared for what he said next.
"He ended on the note, 'And I went home and killed my son'," Flynn recalled.
"It was just, the gasp in the audience there was pretty well the gasp that came out of the committee. We weren't anticipating that at all. And this was a decent human being that had just had unresolved issues that led to the most tragic of circumstances."
Canadian Olympic star Elizabeth Manley joined the committee Thursday to share her struggles with depression, starting at age 17 when she was an up-and-comer on the international figure skating circuit.
She lost her hair and couldn't get out of bed in the morning, she said. Bouts of depressions have plagued her throughout her life, after her mother died two years ago and more recently as she tries to cope with her father's decline due to Alzheimer's.
"It's not just the person down the street that suffers from it. It could be Elizabeth Manley, your Olympic sweetheart," she said Thursday.
"It's the person that you least expect it that could be suffering from it, and I'm a perfect example."
Catherine Pringle, daughter of television host Valerie Pringle and a former Conservative staffer, said she battled with depression and anxiety when she started her first "real" job in politics.
Fortunately, she got the help she needed. But Pringle said she was afraid to tell anyone where she'd been when she returned from treatment.
Pringle was among a lucky few.
The report found people in Ontario are waiting too long for treatment, and youth in particular are caught in the gap between programs for children and those for adults — just when the first symptoms of addiction and mental health problems tend to crop up.
The committee's 23 recommendations cover a lot of ground, from more education and training for doctors and hospitals, to better housing options and the creating of specialized courts across the province.
Some will be controversial, the committee acknowledged.
It wants the government to create a task force that would look at making changes to provincial legislation, such as ensuring family members and caregivers have access to personal health information to provide support to a person with mental health or addiction issues.
In a joint statement, Health Minister Deb Matthews and Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten promised to take the report "into consideration."
"We know that there is more to do to strengthen mental health and addiction supports for all Ontarians," they said in a statement.
"Work is already underway to improve integration and collaboration to better meet the needs of children, youth, families, adults, and communities. We will continue to do more."