January 2017 ©2017 Mood Disorders Society of Canada 2016 All Rights Reserved  (PDF)

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada has grown out of the vision and drive of a number of mental health consumer leaders from across Canada who in 1995 saw the need for a broad- based structure to bring consumers of mental health services together and who believe that consumers have a key role to play with regard to education and advocacy at the national level. It was formally launched and incorporated in 2001 with the overall objective of providing people with mood disorders with a strong, cohesive voice at the national level to improve access to treatment, inform research, and shape program development and government policies with the goal of improving the quality of life for people affected by mood disorders.

Collaboration is an MDSC operational principle. The Society fulfills its mandate through an active partnership approach that engages like-minded organizations in the public, private and voluntary sectors. The MDSC is engaged on an ongoing basis in a wide range of projects and initiatives designed to support the inclusion of persons with disabling mental illnesses in Canadian society and has taken a lead proactive role in public policy and program development in many capacities on the national stage.

Key Messages 


MDSC recommends a national pharmacare program in order to:

  • Cover all Canadians’ medication needs, in particular the newest and most effective medications as they are discovered and approved,
  • Take the worry out of life’s transition points that threaten medication continuity, and
  • Ensure the consistent availability of medications across the country

Strengthening the patient voice

MDSC recommends:

  • An audit of the Canadian Agency for Drug Technologies in Health (CADTH)’s patient involvement We also recommend a much more robust communications strategy for how patient feedback is utilized,
  • Funding patient groups so that they are compensated for research costs, the time it takes to prepare submissions and travel costs for face-to-face meetings,
  • Including the patient voice in substantial numbers, and that of psychiatrists, not just as consultants but as decision-makers through full membership on CADTH, itself, and its various committees and adjudication


The focus of this brief is patient access to medication, an important and pressing concern for people with mental illness, their families and caregivers.

However, people with mental illness have ongoing and over-arching trouble with access to all mental health treatments and services – despite dire need – no matter where in the country they live.

Example: Cloe White’s story is unusual only because her family had the money to purchase treatment in the United States. Cloe’s addiction problems masked an underlying mental illness. After trying everything they could and every door they could find, her family gave up on the Canadian health care system in order to save her life.

When she left the country for treatment, the Canadian wait time was 14 – 16 months long with 200 people in front of her. They knew that if they waited that long, she would die.1

The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that 1.2 million Canadian children are in need of mental health treatment but only one in four finds access.2

Cloe’s story illustrates the fact that Canada has a two-tiered mental health system despite protestations to the contrary. People, tired of waiting and, if they can afford to, buy their services on the private market.3

Canada’s mental health system remains chronically under-funded.4 Lack of funding means long wait times in Emergency Rooms.5 Access to psychiatrists is slow, especially in rural and remote

1 Metro Morning broadcast (Aug. 29, 2016). Available at:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/programs/metromorning/youth-mental-health-1.3739506
2 Picard, A. The Globe and Mail (Oct. 13, 2013). Exposing Canada’s ugly mental health secret. Available at:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/exposing-canadas-ugly-mental-health-  secret/article14828590/
3 ibid
4 MacLean’s (Aug. 2016). Advocates: Canada’s mental health system needs funding: Chronically underfunded: Canada’s mental health system now lags behind most other OECD countries. Available at: http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/advocates-canadas-mental-health-system-needs-funding/
5 Janus, A. (June 2014). Canada has made “no progress” on psychiatric care wait time, report finds. CTV. Available at:         http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/canada-has-made-no-progress-on-psychiatric-care-wait-times-report-finds-    1.1850794

areas where there are currently too few and those that are practicing are retiring – with no replacements in sight.6

First Nations and Inuit peoples are particularly ill served7 with a suicide rate of 126 /100,000 as opposed to 26/100,000 for the rest of Canada’s population. Aboriginal youth are notably at risk with children as young as 10 taking their own lives by suicide.

Access to basics such as diagnosis and inpatient and outpatient treatment are limited with valued services such as counselling and psychotherapy completely un-funded. People are left on their own to pay for them – or, a much more common result, do without.8

The Conference Board of Canada estimates that mental illness in the Canadian workforce costs $20.7 B per year and this figure is expected to rise to $29.1 B by 2020.9 The Mental Health Commission places the overall cost to Canada’s productivity at $51 B per year.10

These short-comings have been documented again and again. Presently, federal Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, has acknowledged that Canada is not investing in its citizens’ mental health care as much as other developed countries in the world.11

The Canadian Alliance of Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) reports that spending on mental health in Canada is 7.2% of total health funding and calls for it to be increased to a minimum of 9%.12

While the specific messages of this brief revolve around access to medication, MDSC’s analysis and messages must be seen within the context of the wider problems that plague Canada’s mental health system.

6 CBC News (Aug. 22, 2016). Time for psychiatrists to improve access to mental health care. Available at:  http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/health/psychiatrists-ices-1.3730640
7 Kestler-D’Amours, J. (March 22nd, 2016). Canada and the Aboriginal mental health crisis. Available at:  http://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2015/mentalhealth/index.html
8 CBC News (Aug. 22, 2016). Time for psychiatrists to improve access to mental health care. Available at:  http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/health/psychiatrists-ices-1.3730640
9 Mental health issues in the labour force: Reducing the economic impact on Canada. Report for sale: $195.00. Very brief summary available at: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=4957
10 Mental Health Commission of Canada (2016). Advancing the mental health strategy for Canada: A framework for action (2017 – 2022). Available at: http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2016-  08/advancing_the_mental_health_s