The province’s future physicians made rounds at the Legislative Building on Tuesday to raise concerns about Saskatchewan’s mental health crisis.
“The word crisis is not something to be thrown around, but I think it’s appropriate in this case,” said Alison White, chair of the Government Affairs and Advocacy Committee with the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan (SMSS).
White recalled being at a Saskatoon outpatient psychiatric clinic when a youth who had waited a year for an appointment came in.
“The distress that had been caused by that wait, both to the individual and the family, was incredible,” she said. “These are very sensitive stages in development for young people and when you go a year without a serious disorder being adequately addressed, that’s a year you sometimes can’t get back.”
Saskatoon has one- to two-year waits for child psychiatric services, White said.
She noted there’s been progress in addressing prejudice around mental health, but when young people reach out for help, all too often help is not available.
The second-year medical student at the College of Medicine in Saskatoon was among 13 med students who spoke with MLAs about improving access to child and youth mental health services.
They represent 400 Saskatchewan medical students in various stages of training.
“We need more services for adults as well, but children and youths are certainly a vulnerable population,” White said.
The SMSS consulted with people throughout the province including community leaders, Saskatchewan’s advocate for children and youth, teachers, psychiatrists and other health-care providers.
With the support of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, the med students are seeking increased support for school-based mental health resources.
They believe an Alberta program called Mental Health Capacity Building in Schools, which puts mental health experts in schools, could be replicated in Saskatchewan at a reasonable cost.
The program reaches more than 180 schools throughout Alberta.
“It’s important to target kids in schools,” White said. “It leads to more kids being identified early on and links them to community resources where they can get help.”
More mental health professionals, like social workers and nurses, are needed to work in collaboration with psychiatrists, she added.
“Children and youth with mental health disorders that go untreated become adults with mental health and addictions disorders,” White said.
She and her colleagues made their case to Health Minister Jim Reiter, Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit and Education Minister Gordon Wyant, Social Services Minister Paul Merriman, opposition members and the Human Services Committee.
“This is an issue of priority for us as Saskatchewan’s future physicians,” White said.
After meeting the students, Reiter acknowledged the province must better fund mental health.
In the upcoming provincial budget, there will be an incremental increase in mental health funding over the previous year, he said.
“Having said that, I think in the out years you’re going to see a much more aggressive approach,” Reiter said. “There’s a very clear understanding in government now that mental health has become much more front of mind.”
Reiter believes the Alberta school approach has potential and he’ll discuss it further with Wyant.
“The Children’s Advocate has talked to us about that as well,” he said.
The med students are deeply troubled that mental health funding in Saskatchewan is five per cent, well below the national average of seven per cent.
“In other areas of Canada, the conversation is around moving funding up towards nine per cent because nine per cent is what we know to be adequate for improved health outcomes,” White said.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili applauded the med students for advocating on behalf of patients.
“As we were going around the province during the leadership race, we heard a lot of questions around mental health and the need for greater services there,” Meili said.
He said the students’ evidence-based presentation provided cost-effective ways to improve mental health services.
Meili endorsed the Alberta model of incorporating mental health supports in schools.
“As they pointed out, kids who have mental health issues that are unaddressed end up being adults with mental health issues,” Meili said. “That has very serious implications for their lives, but also for costs down the road. Making those interventions upstream without waiting makes a lot of sense.”
Published: March 20, 2018
Source: Regina Leader Post