Quebec’s mental health is getting a boost as Health Minister Gaetan Barrette announced a $35 million public program to provide psychotherapy to those who need it.

“There was a lack of coverage regarding psychotherapy,” he said. “What we’re announcing today is for diagnosed mental illnesses, coverage will be extended to psychotherapy in all instances.”

Andre Delorme, head of mental health at the ministry of health, said increased scientific knowledge of mental health problems had made the program a necessity.

“It’s a social evolution, I think,” he said. “I think the ministry was well attuned with what the scientific literature says and the political level was open to the recommendations that we should develop these services.”

Patients will have to go to their family doctor to get a referral to a therapist approved by the RAMQ, but Barrette said that could change in the future.

Quebecs who have insurance will qualify for the program if they have a diagnosed problem.

Some treatments will not be covered, with Barrette offering the example of athletes seeking a sports psychologist.

The program is modelled on a similar one launched a decade ago in Great Britain.

“It works. It is the only transformation that has occurred in the Western world that showed positive and very significant results. The results are overwhelming over there,” he said. “When we take their numbers, transpose to the Quebec population, the $35 million we’re putting on the table should do the job.”

According to the health ministry, the program will annually offer therapy to three per cent of Quebec’s population, with 600,000 in-face appointments and 260,000 people with more severe conditions receiving more intensive care.

The majority of mental illnesses diagnosed in Canada are related to depression and anxiety, for which talk therapy is often, but not always, effective. Barrette said the funding will cover an array of therapeutic styles.

“There are nurse practitioners who have specific training in mental health. We have social workers who do have the training to do that,” he said. “It’s step-management and step-therapy. There are low-intensive levels and high-intensity levels. At the lower level, most of the time, if it’s well-structured, a social worker will do the job. When you go higher in the treatment, you will have a psychologist and so on.”

One challenge will be making sure all materials will be accessible throughout the province. Delorme said in some cases, appropriate treatment may be self-care, in which case a patient will be given materials to help them work through their problems.

“It can be in a book or it can be web-based,” he said. “There are already those kinds of treatments in certain areas of the province but we have to make sure it’s available everywhere. The idea is if you’re living in Sherbrooke or Hull or Gaspe, you want to have access to the same steps.”

Michael Sheehan, who lost his son to suicide 22 years ago and has volunteered for mental health organizations since, said he welcomed the announcement.

“We’re obviously happy to a certain extent,” he said. “But suicide, distress, anxiety and depression for our young people or anyone is a societal problem.”

The program is the latest influx of cash into Quebec’s mental healthcare infrastructure. In April, Barrette announced $26.5 million in annual funding to improve support for those suffering from severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.