Healthy Minds, Healthy People – A Ten-Year Plan to Address Mental Health and Substance Use in British Columbia

BC Government News Release


November 1, 2010

VANCOUVER – The Province today released a 10-year plan to address mental health and substance use with a focus on prevention of problems, early intervention, treatment and sustainability.

“The 10-year plan is a road map to further build on our commitment to improving mental health for all British Columbians and addressing problematic substance use,” said Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon. “Government now spends over $1.3 billion annually – up 47 per cent from 2001 – to address mental health and substance use problems and we need to ensure dollars are aligned with leading practice and best evidence.”

Entitled Healthy Minds, Healthy People, the cross-ministry plan reflects both extensive public and stakeholder consultation and evidence-based research and practice. It is aligned with existing child, youth and adult mental health and substance use strategies across the province, as well as the national mental health framework.

Healthy Minds, Healthy People places a strong emphasis on children and families, based on research that shows that early engagement and access to targeted supports can prevent or reduce mental illness and substance use problems later in life.


“We know that mental health problems frequently originate in childhood, and that early intervention at a young age can help prevent future illness,” said Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak. “A strong foundation in childhood sets the course for a healthy, fulfilling and productive life. The Ministry of Children and Family Development spends over $100 million annually on a continuum of child and youth mental health services for children up to age 19 and their families.”

The indirect costs of mental illness and/or substance use are also significant. Nationally, mental illness is estimated to cost the Canadian economy around $51 billion annually in lost productivity. B.C.’s proportional share of this burden would be more than $6.6 billion each year. Indirect annual costs of lost productivity related to alcohol use alone are estimated at $1.1 billion.

Healthy Minds, Healthy People acknowledges that mental illness and problematic substance use can affect people of all ages from all walks of life in school, work and at home. Around one in five adults in B.C. are affected by mental health or substance use problems over any twelve-month period. However, the stigma associated with these problems often means people do not seek out and receive the supports and services they need.

“The B.C. plan to address mental health and substance use reaches out to people at home, in school and at work,” said Michael Kirby, chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. “British Columbia’s plan focuses on prevention, early intervention as well as treatment. The commission congratulates the B.C. government for this comprehensive and innovative approach. We are proud to be working together toward the common goal of transforming the mental health system and improving the lives of everyone affected by mental health problems.”

Programs and services that promote maternal and family health and healthy early childhood development are crucial in prevention and early intervention.

As part of the continuum of supports and services to address mental health in children, the FRIENDS For Life program is an example of an evidence-based prevention program that increases resiliency and prevents anxiety available to grades 4, 5 and 7 students. Teachers and parents are educated about the prevalence, signs and impact that anxiety has on children and youth and learn skills to build children’s resilience and address the early signs of anxiety. FRIENDS in B.C. is funded and co-ordinated by the Ministry of Children and Family Development in partnership with school districts around the province.

Since its provincial launch in 2004, all school districts have participated, as well as many independent schools. Over 3,000 educators have been trained to deliver FRIENDS in classrooms, and more than 1,000 parents and caregivers have attended FRIENDS parent workshops – helping to increase mental health literacy in schools, families and communities.

‘The FRIENDS program teaches children how to cope with fears and worries and equips them with tools to help manage difficult situations, now and later in life,” said Jonaire Bowyer-Smyth, a behaviour specialist in the Surrey school district and FRIENDS program trainer. “The FRIENDS program is fun learning for kids and will benefit them, their parents and their entire family.”

The plan will achieve results by realigning current resources to invest in what is proven to work, and linking with existing programs and projects across government to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

“We need to learn from the evidence and provide effective and efficient services to achieve the best outcomes for people,” added Falcon. “We need to stop doing what doesn’t work in favour of what does and to ensure services are evidence-based and cost-effective.”

The Province is focusing on delivering programs more efficiently and effectively, including:

  • No waitlists at BC Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders program due to business process redesign.
  • Video-conferencing for training and clinical consultation on community Child and Youth Mental Health teams to improve access to evidence-based treatment.
  • A project underway to improve patient flow for adult clients with mental health and substance use problems at six Vancouver Coastal Health hospitals.

In addition, projects like the Homelessness Intervention Project and the Prolific Offender pilots show how better integration can enhance services without new dollars.

“Intervention and front-line outreach, to ensure B.C.’s most vulnerable citizens have access to supportive housing, is a crucial element to ending the cycle of challenges associated with mental illness and addictions,” said Social Development Minister Kevin Krueger. “The province has Homelessness Intervention Projects in five communities and 58 Homeless Outreach programs in communities throughout B.C. which have made a tremendous difference in over 770 people’s lives during the first few months of 2010 alone.”

Improvements in addressing mental health and substance use in B.C. include:

  • 75 per cent more community beds for adults with mental health problems since 2001 for a total of 8,662 beds.
  • Opening the 100-bed Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction to treat those with the most severe mental health and addiction issues.
  • 182 per cent increase since 2003 in community beds for people with substance use problems to 2,550;
  • Increasing the number of family doctors providing mental health and substance use services from 4,194 in 2001 to 4,574 in 2008-09.
  • Being the first province in Western Canada to have dedicated withdrawal management beds for youth – there are currently 39.
  • In 2003, B.C. became the first province to establish and then implement a Child and Youth Mental Health Plan that doubled the funding and significantly increased access to an enhanced continuum of services and supports.

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