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Does Budget 2024’s $500 million investment over five years address the mental health challenges young people are facing?

The proposed funding is intended to facilitate access to care and support mental health initiatives, as experts call for greater coordination between federal and provincial governments.


The federal government’s 2024 budget has brought the mental health of young Canadians to the forefront. For many students and young professionals, the lack of access to private mental health care, combined with the high cost of living, can make overcoming mental illness a steep hill to climb. The government said it wants to ensure future generations have the support they need to safeguard their mental wellbeing as they transition to adulthood.

To that end, starting in 2024-2025, the government pledged $500 million over five years for a new Youth Mental Health Fund designed to help younger Canadians access mental health care. The fund is also intended to expand the range of care available and provide tools and guidance to connect young people to other mental health services within their networks.

Julie Lane, an associate professor at Université de Sherbrooke and director of the Centre RBC d’expertise universitaire en santé mentale, welcomed the announcement of the new fund. She believes it signals that the mental health problems youth are encountering are finally being recognized by governments. “The Quebec government alone has invested in several funding initiatives, such as its Plan d’action interministériel en santé mentale 2022-2026 and the Plan d’action sur la santé mentale étudiante en enseignement supérieur 2021-2026,” she said. Dr. Lane pointed out that university students are among the most vulnerable of the younger age groups for mental health problems, particularly because of the pressure to perform. “Some highly competitive programs such as medicine put a lot of focus on academic performance,” she explained. “My recent research into suicide among university students has pointed to academic pressure as an important risk factor.”

Nafissa Ismail, a professor at University of Ottawa’s school of psychology and university research chair in stress and mental health, shares Dr. Lane’s assessment. She believes the budget puts into focus the mental health challenges Canadians face. “These concerns don’t generally fall under federal jurisdiction,” she said, “but clearly, the prime minister and his government are trying to do their part to address them. The plain truth is that the pandemic changed how we do things as a society. We need new creative solutions to help Canadians, and I see some of that in the new budget.”

Dr. Ismail argueses two important developments have led the government to prioritize the mental health of students and young people: the pandemic and current research findings. “We saw the effect the pandemic had on our younger populations. Having to switch to online learning, not getting to socialize with their friends.” Then new studies began to unravel some of our previous assumptions. “We thought mental illnesses only emerged in adulthood,” Dr. Ismail said. “In reality, 50 per cent of the cases we diagnose in adulthood actually began in early adolescence, but went undetected because of all the hormonal changes.” And unfortunately, if we don’t start treatment for a mental health condition until the person has reached adulthood, “it takes far, far longer to treat effectively.”

Dr. Ismail said the new Youth Mental Health Fund should therefore zero in on making mental health care more accessible. “Patients with mental illnesses are having to wait weeks and even months just to see someone and access services,” she said. “These kinds of wait times can have further adverse effects on already fragile, vulnerable individuals. When people need help with their mental health, they need it right away.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Lane, who is also the co-director of the Observatory on Student Mental Health in Higher Education, is calling for greater coordination between federal and provincial governments to ensure the money goes where it’s needed most. “Federal and provincial governments have a lot to gain from greater collaboration,” she said. “What they need to do is sit down at the same table and have a real conversation about funding these community organizations. They should be duty-bound to work together so they don’t end up wasting time and energy duplicating what the other already has in place.”

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