Toronto proposes new strategy to support mental health, reduce harm of substance use

The City of Toronto has released a strategic plan to address a “concerning trend” of decreased mental well-being and what it calls a severe crisis of drug toxicity.

Eight high-level recommendations and goals are included in the plan, dubbed “Our Health, Our City: A Mental Health, Substance Use, Harm Reduction, and Treatment Strategy for Toronto.”

The directives range from raising awareness about mental health and related resources in the city to creating round-the-clock, low-barrier spaces for those experiencing crisis or substance-related issues.

“Our Health, Our City is a bold plan to make our city safer and more caring by promoting better mental health and wellbeing for all,” Mayor Olivia Chow said in a statement following the release of the report. “Implementing this strategy will be an enormous team effort, requiring collaboration across City divisions, community organizations, health care partners, and other government partners.”

The release of the strategy comes amid a worsening state of mental health overall in Toronto, according to the city.

Back in 2017, at least 71 per cent of adults in the city rated their mental health as “very good” or “excellent.” In 2021, that number dropped to 55 per cent.

At the same time, the city said, both mental health and substance use trends worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the latter of which has proved to be deadly due to opioid-related toxicity in Toronto. Preliminary data from the city notes that 509 deaths were caused by opioid toxicity in 2022 – a 271 per cent increase from 2015.

“Since 2015, nearly 2,900 lives have been lost in the city due to opioid-related toxicity – each death preventable,” the city said.

Toronto’s Board of Health is set to consider the report on Nov. 27. While it’s unclear how much exactly the strategy would cost to implement, the city once again called on the provincial and federal governments to chip in.

“This strategy outlines how key investments in the health and social fabric of our city from all orders of government, including community programming and treatment services, are essential to creating a liveable city for everyone,” Councillor and Chair of the Board of Health Chris Moise said.

The plan in its entirety can be viewed here.

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