Calgary council unanimously approves final $14M for mental health action plan

·3 min read
Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has strongly advocated for the action plan since it was conceptualized in 2018, said the approval represents the beginning of an ongoing process to make mental health resources more accessible for Calgarians. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has strongly advocated for the action plan since it was conceptualized in 2018, said the approval represents the beginning of an ongoing process to make mental health resources more accessible for Calgarians. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Calgary city council voted unanimously to approve the final $14 million in funding for its mental health and addiction action plan on Monday.

The first of its kind in Canada, the Calgary Mental Health and Addiction Community Strategy and Action Plan is community-based and focuses on mental wellness and connecting people who need help with resources.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has strongly advocated for the action plan since it was conceptualized in 2018.

He told city council he became aware of challenges in accessing mental health resources during the 2013 floods in Calgary — a major disaster that some experts said could lead to ongoing issues with depression and anxiety — and again when a close friend was suffering from addiction and mental health issues.

On Monday, he said the action plan's approval represents the beginning of an ongoing process to make mental health resources more accessible for Calgarians.

"I want to say that although this was a ton of work, this is not the end," Nenshi said Monday.

"And the real hard work starts now. Because we have to recognize the system isn't working."

Karen Gosbee, one of the action plan's organizers, told city council last week that initiatives and projects such as these help to amplify resources for people who need mental health supports.

Her late husband, Calgary businessman George Gosbee, died by suicide in 2017.

"People tend to … turn to me, just because I talk about it more, and the shame and the stigma obviously isn't something that I carry," Gosbee said.

"And I think this whole strategy will amplify that — that people [will want] to talk more freely, that resources will be amplified … once it's implemented."

The plan's past and present

City council first approved the concept for the action plan with an investment of up to $25 million in 2018.

Of that total, $11 million has been invested in various programs, services and initiatives since 2019.

Council's vote on Monday ratified the finance committee's unanimous decision on March 16 to secure and allocate the remaining $14 million in funds to three areas of the action plan.

They include community-based services and programs, an annual campaign called Change Can't Wait! to pilot new data-based ideas and targeted investments for evidence-based initiatives.

The objective is to see progress in three areas the action plan categorized as "being well," "getting help," and "staying safe."

"Being well" aims to promote positive mental health in workplaces and schools, and to share information in the community to help people develop a fuller understanding of mental health and addiction.

"Getting help" seeks to establish a coordinated network of mental health and addictions services, and build the capacity of local organizations to better meet the needs of the community.

And lastly, "staying safe" involves strengthening existing crisis support and transforming how to respond to people and families who need it.

"When a Calgarian calls 911, there should be an option to access mental health support as well as fire, police, or ambulance," the plan reads.

While some specifics have not yet been made clear, ideas are being developed on a timeline that begins in 2021 and ends in 2023.

"Those three broad things are the areas that we will continue to work on immediately, to ensure that people are able to feel supported," Nenshi said last week.

"Every single one of us will struggle with our mental health at some point in our lives, and it's important that the community is there to support that work."