Mental health and addictions: How Ontario and Toronto can improve lives while saving billions

I am a lawyer whose clients live with severe mental health disabilities, often complicated by addictions. More than 90 per cent began drinking to excess in their preteen years in an effort to escape their lives. By the time I meet them, they live with concurrent serious mental health and addiction disabilities. In order to meet with them, I visit Toronto’s drop-in centres several times a week.

In his report on provincial spending, Don Drummond pointed out that my clients and others like them cost the health-care system billions, as they use emergency wards for primary health care and emergency psychiatric support.

In addition, they cycle through Toronto’s shelters, police departments, courts and jails. As a result of their cognitive and perceptual impairments, my clients often have difficulty remembering date, time and place. This leads to additional criminal charges when they fail to attend court or probation hearings. It also means they have difficulty attending scheduled medical appointments or returning administrative paperwork to housing providers like TCHC. This leads to evictions and then the whole cycle starts all over again.

As my clients cycle through homelessness and temporary housing, they often are the victims of criminal violence. Nearly 100 per cent of the women I work with have been raped at least once and at least 50 per cent of my clients have been assaulted while on the street.

The Drummond report identifies mental health and addictions as one of the most serious problems increasing Ontario’s health-care costs. It also increases the costs of courts and jails.

Ontario spends between $10 billion and $20 billion — badly — on people with severe mental health problems and addictions. But my clients should not need to go to hospital emergency wards to get medical help. In parallel, Toronto spends at least $100 million to warehouse my clients in the shelter system.

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Publication Date: 
Toronto, Ontario, Canada