Ontario announces free therapy program for those with anxiety, depression

Through a new publicly-funded program, Ontarians will soon be able to receive free therapy for anxiety and depression, the two most common mental health challenges faced in the region.

Christine Elliott, Ontario’s minister of health, and Michael Tibollo, the associate minister of mental health and addictions, announced the program, called Mindability, at the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby on Tuesday.

With its help, Ontarians over the age of 10 will be able to receive cognitive behavioural therapy to help them build lifelong skills to manage their mental health.

Prospective patients will be able to sign up via phone, text message or online. They will receive an initial assessment, and then be offered a program tailored to their needs, with services including internet modules, over-the-phone coaching, clinical counselling, group therapy, and more.

The government has invested $20 million into the program, which will be funded similarly to OHIP, with no additional costs to patients. Currently, these services are only covered by OHIP if they’re provided by a family doctor or a psychiatrist.

Mindability is part of Roadmap to Wellness, the government’s overall initiative to build a “comprehensive and connected” mental health and addiction system that can provide Ontarians easier access to high-quality care when they need it. It will also include a Centre of Excellence that will oversee the new strategy and its services.

The hope is that Roadmap will address urgent gaps and problems in the system, including providing equitable services and lowering high wait times. To enable Roadmap and its goals, the Ford government has invested $1.9 billion over the next 10 years, which the federal government is matching.

The plan has not been without criticism, however. In a joint statement on Tuesday, numerous mental health providers, including Addictions and Mental Health Ontario and Children’s Mental Health Ontario, said while this new effort is admirable, it requires a fully-funded plan to effectively reduce wait times across the province for youth and those with more complex needs. They estimated that $380 million in new annual funding will be needed.

“Investments in expansion of front-line services must be a priority, particularly at this time when hospitals are strained and the community sector is struggling with extremely long wait-lists,” the statement says.

Still, there is hope the government’s hefty commitment will have some substance behind it. Throughout Roadmap’s development, the province has been making an effort to be inclusive, consulting not only healthcare providers, first responders, caregivers and grassroots organizations, but holding discussion forums across the province with Ontarians and those experienced with Indigenous mental health. According to The Canadian Press, the goal is to treat 80,000 patients per year by the time Mindability is fully implemented in three to four years.

“We know how important it is for Ontarians and their families to have access to high-quality services when and where they need them,” Elliott said. “By improving the availability and quality of mental health and addictions supports, and by better connecting Ontarians with these services, this new roadmap will help us build healthier communities by alleviating growing pressures on our hospitals and, in doing so, significantly support our goal of ending hallway health care.” 

The program will launch this spring and expand in the fall, although a specific date has not yet been announced.


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