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Ryan Wright on transforming mental health care

Canada trails the pack when it comes to mental health funding in comparison to other industrially developed nations. In Saskatchewan specifically, only five percent of the provincial government’s health budget is earmarked for mental health. According to the Saskatchewan Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, this is two percent less than the Canadian average. Consequently, Saskatchewan is in last place for percentage of health budget allocated to mental health. This directly impacts health regions implementing mental health services, which, in turn, negatively affects the lives of Canadians, often in very serious ways. Specifically, those presenting to emergency room units in mental health crisis often do not get proper care or support. They may even be turned away. This can prove fatal for persons suffering with mental illness. Moreover, the wait time to see a psychiatrist in Saskatchewan is between six months to one year. The wait time to see a psychologist through the Saskatoon Health Region can be up to three months.

Mental health problems cannot be put on a wait list. A person with psychotic break, someone tortured by PTSD, or somebody experiencing debilitating depression or anxiety cannot wait months to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. Mental suffering is far worse than physical suffering, despite it being less visible. Our sense of self is based on our inner experience and the way our mind works. When these become psychotic, confused, or depressed, a person suffers enormously.

Yet, emergency room units often prioritize physical injury over mental pain. Additionally, a healthcare system lacking a separate intake for those in mental, emotional, or spiritual crisis results in special problems. Physical injury competes unfairly with mental illness and those with mental health needs become low priority or even not urgent patients.

We desperately need a transformation of the current system. There needs to be increased funding allocated to mental health within the province. In addition, a separate intake for persons in mental health crisis (including direct access to a psychiatrist) is also needed. For example, in Saskatoon, this could be done at the Dubé Centre. Creating a separate intake would also free up emergency room health care providers to focus solely on physical illness and injury. Now is the time to make emergency mental health support a priority in this province!