Ford government pledges $40M to mental-health initiatives for students

The province is pledging nearly $40 million for student mental-health initiatives, including permanent funding for about 180 mental health workers in secondary schools.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the pledge Thursday morning to mark World Mental Health Day.

“Too many students are struggling with their mental health and well-being,” Lecce said in a statement. “I am proud to be a member of this government that is applying a compassionate eye to making mental health a priority by more than doubling mental health supports for our kids.”

According to a government news release, one in five students in grade seven to 12 say their mental health is “fair” or “poor.”

The funding will go toward nine front-line programs run by various agencies, including school boards and non-profit organizations. The bulk of the money, some $25 million, will go toward the 180 mental health workers in secondary schools that were hired by district school boards in 2018-19. These include social workers, psychologists and psychotherapists.

Another $6.5 million will go to the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and School Mental Health Ontario to support the 72 district school boards, with another $3 million going to “well-being and mental health programs” throughout the province’s district school boards.

Other money will go to agencies like Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Canada and Kids Help Phone.

“Mental health is a key component of an individual’s overall health, so I applaud the government for making these valuable investments,” Katherine Hay, president and CEO of Kids Help Phone, said Thursday in a statement.

“Today’s announcements will make a big difference in the lives of students and their families.”

Mayor calls for federal funding

Also Thursday, Toronto Mayor John Tory called on the federal government to make investments in mental health and addictions programs, as well as housing.

“Without additional federal investments in comprehensive, accessible services and supports directly in communities, we will never help these many individuals that so obviously need a path to recovery, stability, and wellness,” Tory said in a statement.

“On World Mental Health Day, I am pledging to continuing to advocate for additional funding for mental health and addictions treatment.”

To further his advocacy, Tory said he will meet with mayors from across the Greater Toronto Area, as well as regional chairs, next month to discuss responses to mental health issues, addiction and homelessness.

He noted that funding on these issues is often focused “downstream,” meaning the front-line response. But his goal is to reach people who need help before they end up in dire straits.

“While we will continue to care for those who need help as cities are called upon to do every day, it is past time for there to be a real plan in place, in partnership with both other governments, to give people the support they need before they end up in our emergency rooms or on the street,” Tory said.

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