During Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting in Smiths Falls, council received a presentation from Rebecca Fromowitz, Executive Director of Lanark County Mental Health (LCMH). Fromowitz shared information with the members of council about the pressing lack of federal funding to mental health services in Lanark County and Smiths Falls. According to the statistics, Lanark County received slightly less than $3.5 million for community mental health services. Leeds Grenville received just over $20 million, and Hasting Prince Edward received slightly less than $22 million. LCMH is funded at a significantly lower level when compared to other community mental health services in surrounding areas, and “substantially lower per capita for the region that we’re supporting,” explained Fromowitz.
Mayor Pankow was shocked by these numbers. “I’m not sure where to start. You’ve delivered a very disturbing message. Inequitable funding is limiting your ability to provide services to the people who need it the most. It’s like a kick in the stomach. Despite what’s probably an incredible effort by yourself and your team, people aren’t getting the support they need.”
Lanark County Mental Health operates out of a main office in Smiths Falls and another in Carleton Place. A third office will be opening in Perth this fall. They are also at four hospital sites across the county, and work alongside Smiths Falls Police Services and the OPP. They also work across the county delivering services in people’s homes. They operate the Mobile Crisis Response Team, the first one in our region, with mental health professionals responding to mental health calls along with the police. They also offer walk-in mental health counselling services with no referral required.
The number of clients served by LCMH increased by 30% over this time last year, largely due to fallout from the pandemic and lockdowns. Fromowitz and others expect this number to surge in the aftermath of the pandemic. “We are currently supporting over 4200 individuals” across the county, explained Fromowitz, noting that the Mobile Response Team saw a 40% increase in calls, “but we have no additional funding.” LCMH was already drastically underfunded before Covid-19; “the pandemic didn’t create this situation, but it has amplified the situation.”
More than 40% of Ontarians have self-reported deterioration in their mental health throughout the duration of Covid-19, and suicidal thoughts have plagued 8-10% of the population (up from 2.5% pre-pandemic). Fromowitz explained that “prolonged adversity” in a community leads to an increase in mental distress across the population. “We really do need to ensure that timely access is available to everyone in order to mitigate or prevent a post-pandemic mental health pandemic.”
“We’re willing to help any way we can,” assured Mayor Pankow. LCMH will be presenting this information to municipal governments across the county, encouraging them to request equitable funding for Lanark County Mental Health.