Healthy minds, healthy people: A ten year plan to address mental health and substance use in British Columbia

Mental health is essential to physical health, personal well-being, and positive family and interpersonal relationships. The World Health Organization describes mental health as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, copes with the normal stresses of life, works productively and contributes to his or her communities. Good mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness – it enables people to experience life as meaningful and to be creative, productive members of society.

The impact of mental health and substance use problems in B.C. is significant. Over any 12-month period, about one in five individuals in the province will experience significant mental health and/or substance use problems leading to personal suffering and interference with life goals.

Mental illness and problematic substance use affect people of all ages from all walks of life. Yet, the majority of people are probably unaware of how many people with a mental illness they know and encounter every day. Stigma and discrimination are very real barriers for many: obstacles to education, employment opportunities, adequate housing and access to basic health and social services are common. Many affected families experience emotional turmoil, diminished quality of life and financial strain.

The costs of ignoring mental health and substance use affect all British Columbians. In 2008/09, the Province spent over $1.3 billion on services that directly addressed mental health and substance use (a figure which only takes into account spending across three of the six main ministries involved in the delivery of mental health and substance use services). The indirect costs of mental illness and/or substance use are also significant. A recent Canadian study has suggested that mental illness costs the Canadian economy $51 billion annually in lost productivity – B.C.’s proportional share of this burden would be more than $6.6 billion each year. Indirect costs of lost productivity related to alcohol use alone are estimated at $1.1 billion.

In order to ensure sustainability of mental health and substance use supports and services across the continuum, the Province and community partners need to target existing and future funding on whole-population and targeted approaches with a proven track record for success. By focusing resources on evidence-based and best practices, everyone involved in promoting the healthy social and emotional development of British Columbians can maximize their investments and yield long-term positive outcomes and economic gains for individuals, businesses and government.

Publication Date: 
BC, Canada