Wellesley Institute is publishing a series examining how mayoral candidates can show leadership and deliver Toronto the Bold—a city that takes wellness, health, and equity seriously to build a better future for every Torontonian, and that takes the lead on doing so. Previously, we have examined housing and public transit. Below, we discuss how the City can work towards improving mental health and well-being in Toronto.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the stark differences in mental health outcomes for structurally disadvantaged communities, particularly Indigenous, Black and other racialized population, and those who are low-income. Along with heightening risk of infection for those groups, the emergency phase of the pandemic also intensified the socioeconomic challenges they face, including increasing income and housing insecurity, limited access to health and social services, lack of social connection, and discrimination—which all likely contributed to poorer mental health and well-being.
The current system and many proposed actions on mental health focus largely on treatments, which do not address the root causes of poor mental health and well-being. Toronto’s next mayor has the opportunity to create a new narrative around improving mental health in the city by prioritizing action on economic, social, and environmental factors that make up the social determinants of health. This includes housing, employment, income, education, social capital, and racism. They can boldly create change and use their platform to improve mental wellbeing in the City by leading on broader, multisectoral action.
Our earlier work on the need for a Social Contract for a Mentally Healthy Canada recognized that achieving community mental wellness and resiliency will require a whole-of-governments, multi-sector approach that involves community, civil society groups, and businesses.
To act on this and work towards a creating a city that prioritizes health equity and improving the mental health and well-being of all its residents, mayoral candidates must commit to:
- Delivering and fully funding a sustainable and collective mental health and wellbeing strategy for the City of Toronto that implements community-based initiatives to improve the mental health and well-being of residents and acts on the social determinants of health to build a resilient city.
- The next Mayor should personally chair the leadership table of this initiative, and it should include representation from Toronto’s community, non-profit, and corporate sectors.
- As part of this initiative, assess Toronto’s broader mental health needs, including those in neighbourhood, schools and workplaces, in order to provide, or where necessary advocate for, changes that would improve well-being for all
- Developing and meeting targets for improving mental well-being for City staff and the staff of contractors and City-funded agencies through actions including:
- Ensuring all of those workers have what they need to Thrive
- Ensuring all of those workers have workplaces that enable Thriving
- Include consideration of how Employee Assistance Plans for these staff, and later all workers in the city, could be modified to meet a Made-in-Toronto standard for mental wellness
- Developing and expanding on programs that address youth mental health
- Collaborate with the provincial government to ensure that all students have access to mental health services and resources when needed, and that teachers, school staff, and early childhood educators are provided with appropriate training and resources on mental health literacy
- Improving sociodemographic data collection methods and systems to support measuring outcomes of mental health programs and initiatives.
- Adequately and sustainably funding existing social service providers and community-based mental health promotion programs that provide critical health and social services and supports.
- Developing and promoting culturally appropriate mental health services and programs for diverse communities, such as those facing language barriers.
- Evaluating existing City of Toronto strategies and programs that tackle the social determinants of health, such as poverty reduction, community safety and well-being, housing, and climate change, on their impact on mental health and well-being of residents through a Health Equity Impact Assessment.
- Funding with municipal dollars one-third of the portion needed to construct 18 000 supportive housing units, as outlined in the Toronto Supportive Housing Growth Plan.
- Ensuring meaningful City action on other social determinants, such as housing, education and literacy, social connection, employment and working conditions, and racism.
Toronto’s next mayor must take bold steps to address mental health and wellbeing by doing their part on improving people’s social determinants of health and developing community-led, targeted initiatives to reduce inequities in mental health outcomes. There is a vacuum for true municipal leadership to build a mentally healthy future, and Toronto deserves a mayor who will seize it.