The 2019 budget stitches together Canada’s patchwork of hotlines. Photo: CC, Pxhere. Edits: Rame Abdulkader.
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Government proposes bumps to suicide prevention, minority programming

The federal budget tabled by Trudeau’s Liberal government on March 19 proposes boosts to several mental health programs. Among the highlights are a national plan that would better coordinate Canada’s various crisis hotlines, and additional programming for racialized, LGBTQ+, and Indigenous populations.

The Pan-Canadian Suicide Prevention Service makes up the bulk of the government’s mental-health focused spending, as Budget 2019 proposes that $5 million a year over the next five years be committed to providing and expanding suicide prevention services. The program aims to build on existing infrastructure by providing nation-wide bilingual service, more accessibility options, and a forwarding system that can connect callers to the most relevant services.

Canada’s Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, originally published in 2016, acknowledged that finding the correct regional crisis service can often be difficult, particularly in rural areas.

It highlighted that over 20,000 Canadians a year call American crisis lines, yet the U.S Suicide Prevention Lifeline has no way to forward them to a Canadian service. The report also claimed that population-specific lines including LGBTQ+ and Indigenous services are rarely integrated into the general suicide prevention system. The report proposed that the federal government coordinate and expand an already expansive crisis line system — a proposal reflected in the 2019 budget.

Budget 2019 also targets populations recognized as being at a higher risk of mental illness including Indigenous youth and veterans. The budget proposed $15.2 million be spent on Indigenous youth programming to encourage activism and mental-wellbeing. The document acknowledged that Indigenous men suffer from the highest rates of suicide in the country.

The budget also contributes $20.1 million to research on post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and unemployment among veterans.

The budget also targets regional mental health epidemics, including communities in Prince Edward Island, and the Inuit Nunangat, and provides both regions with additional funds for affordable housing, addictions treatment programs, and employment training opportunities. It also proposes almost $400 million for programs targeting Inuit and far north populations, based on several reports by the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). These include programs to reconnect Inuit with their cultural heritage, Inuktitut education, and food affordability.

The ITK endorsed these investments in a new release published soon after the official announcement of the budget.

For students, the 2019 budget proposes significant changes to the federal student grant system, allowing students to pause loan repayment in the event of personal or mental health emergencies. The new system allows leave to be taken in six-month blocks, up to a total of 18 months continuously, for students who intend to return to their studies at some point. Students are not expected to repay loans during this period, nor will interest be charged. This change only applies to loans provided by the federal government and will not cover money provided by the Ontario Student Assistance Plan.