New National Mental Health Coalition Seeks Equitable Access to Depression Medications

‘An employment lottery should not be the basis for treating the most significant public health issue of the 21st century’

(OTTAWA, Ontario): During CMHA’s Mental Health Week, Canadians are being asked to ‘get loud’ for mental health. It’s all part of this year’sSick of Waiting: Get Loud for Mental Healthcampaign. A newly formed group of mental health professionals and leaders, advocates, doctors, academics and people with lived experience is lending its voice to the campaign— and calling for changes to Canada’s public drug plan system that prevents many Canadians from getting the treatment they need to get better.

The Canadians for Equitable Access to Depression Medication (CEADM)coalition — led by three of Canada’s strongest advocates for mental wellness, Phil Upshall, National Executive Director of the Mood Disorders Society of Canada; Dr. Patrick Smith, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association; and Jeff Moat, President of Partners for Mental Health— states that under the current system, Canada’s most vulnerable — the marginalized, the unemployed, veterans, seniors, single parents, Indigenous peoples

— are unable to access the latest medications that could help them get better. In forming the coalition, CEADM intends to:

  • create awareness and recognition among policy-­‐makers about the complexity of major depressive disorder and the effects of depression on Canadians’ overall health;
  • highlight the inequity issue for many Canadians who rely on what is a broken public drug plan approval system; and
  • make better depression care a priority among policy-­‐makers.

Improving the system will go a long way to treating what is the most significant public health issue of the 21st century.

“Canadians who live with mental illness already face the barrier of stigma as well as being debilitated by this disease,” says Mr. Upshall. “But in Canada, people who rely on the provincial and territorial public drug plans either can’t get access to or face considerable delays in accessing the latestmedicines to treat their illness. Contrast this to people with private plans, where access to innovative medicines is far more efficient and timely.”

Dr. Smith points out that this federal government has taken a bold leadership stand for mental health. Federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott has remarked on the importance of improving accessibility to pharmaceuticals for Canadians and investing more into mentalhealth treatment. Through her leadership and that of her fellow ministers, we are beginning to see real action taken to transform Canada’s response to mental health. “Yet, despite open conversations and thoughtful discourse, despite public policy strategies and emerging philanthropic interest in mental health, people who are living with mental illness still struggle to get the care and supports they need,with ease and without prejudice,” Dr. Smith adds.

Compared to other OECD countries, Canada can do better, says Laureen MacNeil, CEADM’s Alberta Regional Co-­‐Chair and Executive Director, CMHA Calgary Region: “Access to new medicines in Canada’s public drug plans is lagging when compared toaccess in private sector drug plans, and when compared to public drug plans in other countries.”

First responders like Ron Campbell, a retired RCMP officer from Alberta who has dealt with post-­‐ traumatic stress disorder and major depression, and is a member of the national coalition, appreciates the fact that his private drug plan enabled him to get the support and therapy he needed. “I’m one of the lucky ones whose private drug plan covered some of these innovative new medicines. But there are so many Canadians who aren’t as fortunate as I. Access to the right medicines shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. It isn’t right.”

The one in five Canadians who experience mental illness and the $51 billion-­‐a-­‐year-­‐cost to the Canadian economy underscore the scale of the problem.

“Depression is a significant public health issue, and it’sgetting more problematic,” says Ann Marie MacDonald, CEADM’s Ontario Regional Co-­‐Chair and Executive Director of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario. “One in five Canadians is affected by mental illness and about 4,000 die by suicide every year. Sadly, suicide is a leading cause of death among our young people. Yet, despite the magnitude of the problem, government investment in mental health care is modest at best.”

CEADM’s call for change to the public drug plan system is both an equity issue and amoral issue.

“It is time for Canada to change the way we support people with mental health problems or illness. Access to treatment should not be limited to those select few with employment benefits,”adds Mr. Moat. “Changing the process that recommends drugs for reimbursement by provincial and territorial public drug plans to allow all Canadians access to the latest and best drugs to treat this complex illness is the right thing to do.”


For additional information, interviews, etc., please contact Joan Weinman, 613-­‐294-­‐5679.