Significant investments in mental health and substance use care also shine a light on opportunities for future investments in key areas of need
Two weeks have passed since the BC Provincial Government tabled its Budget 2023 in the Legislature. Since then, CMHA BC has learned more about the details of this budget and has undertaken further analysis on its implications for mental health and substance use in B.C.
Firstly, the $1 billion, announced in Budget 2023, combined with existing investments, will bring mental health and substance use spending to $2 billion over the next three years. This significant investment aligns with CMHA BC’s calls for $2 billion in spending on mental health and substance use care, back in 2017 when this government was first elected.
The majority of the $1 billion announced in Budget 2023 is focused on substance use, with a significant focus on treatment and recovery. CMHA BC is honoured to continue to lead the collaborative and impactful treatment and recovery bed grant program, which provides free, publicly funded treatment and recovery services to adults across the province. The funding allocated to this program in Budget 2023 will allow CMHA BC to expand this program from 105 beds to a total of 205 beds with local community partners.
While treatment and recovery are important parts of the substance use care continuum, people continue to die at alarming rates from the toxic drug supply. The BC Coroner’s report on drug toxicity deaths recorded 211 deaths in January 2023. It’s important to remember that not everyone who uses substances has an addiction or requires treatment. CMHA BC would like to see greater investments in harm reduction measures, including the expansion of safe supply in B.C.
CMHA BC also identified the lack of increased investment in much needed prevention and early intervention, as well as supports for people living with a mental illness, as a significant missed opportunity in Budget 2023. The budget largely focuses on downstream measures and does not point to additional funding for mental health care for children, youth and adults, aside from services for people living with concurrent mental health and substance use issues (e.g., Red Fish Healing Centre model) and complex care housing.
We are faced with a mental health crisis in this province, where it is evident people are not getting access to the care they need, when they need it. Budget 2024 is a critical opportunity to expand the reach of mental health services by, for example, enhancing access to community counselling services and trauma therapy.
When it comes to addressing other social determinants of health, Budget 2023 brought some good news for people who receive income or disability assistance. For the first time since 2007, the Provincial Government is increasing the shelter rate by $125 to $500/month. While this is welcome news, people on assistance continue to live under the poverty line, as costs of living continue to rise.
Safe, secure and affordable housing has as significant impact on mental health and well-being. CMHA BC is pleased to see further investments in non-market housing solutions through increases to the Community Housing and Supportive Housing Funds, both of which provide resources to local CMHA branches across B.C., who offer important housing options to individuals in their communities. We look forward to learning more about the refreshed housing plan, to be released in Spring 2023.
Overall, Budget 2023 includes some major gains for addressing the health and well-being of British Columbians, as well as some areas where there is more work to be done. We look forward to continuing to advocate for the needs of people living with mental illness and/or substance use challenges and working with our community partners and the Province of BC to deliver important mental health and substance use services to all British Columbians.
Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division