Responding to a mental health and addiction tsunami

Recommendations to strengthen mental health and addiction care in Ontario.

In anticipation of the Ontario government moving forward with its renewed mental health and addiction strategy, the OMA took the opportunity to inform this strategy through a series of white papers.

The disruption of social connection and employment, among other factors brought on by the pandemic, is negatively impacting many Ontarians’ mental health. The health-care system is facing an unprecedented tsunami of mental health and addiction conditions as a result. Emerging data suggests that more than one-third of individuals may develop a mental health condition following a COVID-19 diagnosis. Equally concerning, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research report conducted during the pandemic states that Ontario faced a 40-per-cent spike in opioid-related deaths in 2020.

In a white paper, Responding to a Mental Health and Addiction Tsunami, the Ontario Medical Association makes recommendations to address the significant gaps in mental health and addiction care. These recommendations reflect input from Ontario’s physicians and stakeholders who informed us that often the best outcomes for managing mental health conditions come via multidisciplinary team approaches through a range of physician specialties and allied health providers. The paper, which focuses on improving the mental health of children and youth, seniors, those who provide care and marginalized communities, outlines more than 20 immediate priorities and calls on the government to:

  • accelerate and evolve the rollout of the province’s psychotherapy program to provide equitable access to high-quality therapy for all Ontarians, given the cost of private therapy is out of reach for many
  • expand the number of supervised consumption sites and other harm-reduction initiatives
  • fund all Ontario hospitals to ensure that all emergency departments offer dedicated on-site mental health resources 24/7
  • report on and regularly update mental well-being indices and the emergence or exacerbation of mental illness and/or addiction and death from suicide and overdose
  • increase access to public health nurses and social workers in schools for early intervention
  • prioritize in-person learning at school only when it is safe to do so, based on sound public health evidence

Role of physicians

This white paper is the second in a series of two mental health white papers. The first, Physician Leadership in the Delivery of Mental Health and Addiction Care, was released in December 2020 and focused on physicians’ role in the mental health and addiction system. The goal of the first paper was to articulate and solidify, among government and other decision-makers, the critical role that physicians play in delivering most mental health and addiction care in the province.


Read a backgrounder that provides the evidence that underpins this white paper.