Safe Communities and Strong Economies - Mental Health and Addictions in B.C.


Opening Statement

Mental illness and addiction affect one in five people across Canada, significantly affecting business and the economy. Further, un- or under-treated mental illnesses and addictions are pervasive within the homeless population, which can lead them to present in anti-social ways, affecting public safety that can, in turn, affect local business. In addition, un- or under-treated mental illnesses and addictions complicates the transition of homeless into permanent housing and can lead to recidivism in offenders, increasing the costs of social housing and to our justice system.


These consequences of un- and under-treated mental illnesses and addictions are substantive, and can present themselves as rising levels of homelessness and crime, lost productivity, policing costs, and government spending. The report, The Life and Economic Impact of Major Mental Illnesses in Canada 2011-2041, estimates that cost of mental illness alone in Canada was $48.6 billion in 2011. The Centre for Additions and Mental Health lists the costs to our society, which include - on any given week - at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems and between 23 and 67 percent of homeless people report having a mental illness.

In B.C., the Ministry of Health spends more than $1.5 billion per year in mental health and substance use services and the Ministry of Children and Family Development approximately $94 million a year to address child and youth mental health and substance use challenges in B.C.[1] Specific to illicit drug use, the Provincial Health Officer declared a public health emergency April 2016, due to the significant spike in drug overdose deaths

The provincial government estimates that it costs our economy $6.6 billion annually in lost productivity due to mental illness and addiction. [2] Further, the costs of increased policing – typically the first responder when someone becomes unstable or dangerous - is largely borne by businesses through high non-residential property tax rates, which in some regions can be five or more times residential. There are also costs that businesses must pay to ensure the safety of their clients and continuity of their businesses.

The Chamber appreciates that the Government of B.C. has also made it a priority to build a comprehensive system of mental health and substance-use services across the province. We are aware that the Ministry of Health has made investments totalling approximately $1.42 billion in 2014/15, equating to an increase of 67 percent over the 2000/01 total of $851.4 million. We can see that the provincial government has clearly taken many steps to address mental health and addictions issues across the province over the last three years, steps that include more funding, additional space, and capital investments. 

On July 27, 2016, the Government of B.C. established a Joint Task Force on Overdose Response that is headed by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall and Clayton Pecknold, B.C.’s director of police services. The Task Force has representatives from the health and public safety sectors including B.C.’s Chief Coroner, representatives from RCMP “E” Division, the Vancouver Police Department and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.[3]

The Task Force has identified priority areas such as better mental and emotional support for people who work on the front lines; expanded rapid access to opioid substitution treatment and the continuum of care; expanded and targeted law-enforcement strategies for fentanyl and carfentanil; continued expansion of access to naloxone; enhanced laboratory capacity and further support for the BC Coroners Service.  

Although B.C. has increased mental health and addictions treatment resources, helping countless individuals, families, businesses, and communities, the issues related directly and indirectly to un- or under-treated mental illnesses and addictions are still on the rise, as are overdose deaths. B.C. currently has the highest per capita spending on mental health and addictions in Canada at $230 per capita[4] and yet the service demand is still not met. 

The Chamber is confident the provincial government will continue to make priority investments in mental health and addictions, but questions whether the current service delivery model is effective.

For example:

  • Access to mental health and addiction services in rural/remote communities remains an issue for a variety of reasons, including a shortage of trained staff.
  • There appears to be a lack of coordination between the Ministry of Health and BC Housing, which exacerbates the difficulty of providing housing, allowing individuals to slip through the cracks and end up back on the streets.
  • There appears to be a “cherry-picking” approach to addressing un- or under-treated mental illnesses and addictions, largely flowing from funding streams and political priorities e.g. resources tied to a specific gender, age, ethnic profile and/or a specific diagnosis. This can reduce access for those suffering as well as complicate the overall bureaucracy.
  • There is no single lead organization at the provincial-level, and as such, service providers, e.g. social housing (emergency, supportive, etc), justice/law enforcement, health/mental health/sexual health, income/employment, often work in silos and compete for funding, further challenging an already complex situation.
  • Recidivism for offenders as well as evictions from social housing are predominantly due to un- or under-treated mental illnesses and addictions, yet are managed by those in the justice system and by social housing providers rather than trained health care providers.


That the Provincial Government ensures a sustainable, systematic approach to mental health and addictions prevention and treatment through:

  1. commissioning an expedited study – funded in BC Budget 2018 if not sooner - to re-design the current service model to include:
    1. identifying a lead provincial agency to coordinate treatment programs across the province for un- or under-treated mental illnesses and addiction;
    2. ensuring regional integrated teams are properly resourced to provide effective and assertive treatment and outreach; and
    3. support and develop intervention in early and evolving mental health and substance use issues; and
  2. ensuring the work of the Joint Task Force on Overdose Response continues and is appropriately funded.