The province will spend $402 million of the $5.5 billion health portfolio on mental health and addictions services after a bump in this year’s budget.

Colleen Quinlan, executive director of mental health and addictions with the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s integrated urban health portfolio, said the bump is great news for mental health in the province but still falls short of the proportion of the health budget the Mental Health Commission of Canada says should be dedicated to mental health.

“The mental health commission has set a standard for funding for mental health services as a proportion of health budgets, that’s nine per cent, so Saskatchewan is moving towards that,” Quinlan said.

Quinlan added the SHA plans to roll out 75 new residential support beds for people with serious mental illness as well as 10 beds at Pine Lodge Treatment Centre in Indian Head. $1.1 million is also being directed at children and youth mental health programs to hire more professionals to treat mental illness in younger generations.

“We certainly know that a large proportion of adults who have a mental illness develop that mental illness in their youth,” Quinlan said.

“We know the earlier you can intervene the more effective you’re going to be able to mitigate symptoms.”

Mental health advocate Jae Blakley said the funding announcement is symbolic as the province is recognizing the importance of funding mental health initiatives – but he wants to see the mental health assessment unit at Royal University Hospital be used for the purpose it was built for.

“We’re still not seeing a big change in wait times, simply because the unit’s been under-utilized. It’s an issue of getting staff in there and it’s used as a dumping ground for emergency room patients.”

The $402 million budget for mental health and addictions is about an eight per cent increase.