Experts Urge Canada To Establish Free Mental Health System Following Pandemic

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As the stress and anxiety of the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, some doctors say what is needed is a system that will attack the long-term psychological impact on Canadians.

Across the country, mental health organizations are launching online self-assessment tools, developing virtual consultations and increasing the capacity of crisis lines to meet the increased demand for psychological support.

While applauding these initiatives, Margaret Eaton, head of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said a long-term plan to provide ongoing support is necessary.

In an online address to the parliamentary health committee earlier this month, Eaton voiced concerns about an “echo pandemic” of mental health issues.

“Phone lines across the country have just rang,” she said of the association, which provides services in all provinces and the Yukon, currently online and by phone.

An Angus Reid report released this week found that half of those surveyed said their mental health had deteriorated in the past month and a half.

Eaton said it may take up to two years for someone who has experienced a tragedy to return to their normal life, and strengthening existing community programs that provide cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, may be one way to respond. long-term need for services.

“What we are looking at right now is expanding the programs that can be done online and by phone,” she said of the immediate need, noting that one of these programs run by the The association, called BounceBack, provides online support for adults and young people. over 15 years to treat mild to moderate depression, anxiety and stress. She said it recently received more funding in British Columbia and Manitoba.

“This is where we hope the federal government will fill some gaps. What we are seeing is that some of the smaller provinces do not have the deep pockets to invest in mental health. “

She said Nova Scotians in particular face a “perfect storm” for post-traumatic stress disorder as the province grapples with a horrible outburst while battling lingering anxiety about of COVID-19. Residents are also dealing with the recent accident of a military helicopter off the coast of Greece, operated from a Halifax-based frigate. Six crew members were on board.

Calls to the association’s crisis lines in Nova Scotia have soared to 700 calls a day, up from an average of 25 a day after the introduction of home support measures last month, Eaton said.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has launched a free service set up by the Association of Psychologists of Nova Scotia so that people can talk about their plight following the recent shooting that left 22 people dead.

Eaton said the province will need federal support for long-term mental health care for people who can’t even cry together because of gathering restrictions and who could suffer mentally for years.

Federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu announced an online resource called Wellness Together Canada, which includes a self-assessment tool to assess the level of distress. It provides mindfulness videos and a limited number of live telephone sessions offering peer support from frontline workers and other professionals.

The government has also increased funding for three crisis lines, including those dedicated to young people and indigenous peoples.

What makes cognitive behavioral therapy programs and community programs different from these initiatives is that they can provide people with ongoing coping strategies for specific problems related to anxiety and depression, a said Eaton, whose association was founded in 1918 to help traumatized soldiers return home after the First World War.

Residents of communities hit by disasters such as the May 2016 wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, needed continued support and long-term resources, said Eaton.

A University of Alberta study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, surveyed 3,252 students in grades 7 to 12 a year and a half after the fires. It found that 37 percent had signs of PTSD and about 30 percent likely had depression.

Rebecca Canning of Fort McMurray said the pandemic caused some of the trauma she suffered after escaping the wildfires in this community with her husband, Brent, and their three sons.

“It took a good two years to even talk about it,” said Canning of the fires that forced nearly 90,000 people to flee and reduced 2,400 homes and buildings to ruins.

“We have passed the fire on both sides of us,” she recalls. “Everything was in flames. “

Her main concern was her eldest son Dylan, who already suffered from severe anxiety and panic disorder and whose grandfather, “his best friend,” had died of colon cancer two weeks earlier.

“The first two weeks, he cried to sleep every night, especially when we thought our house was gone,” said Canning.

Dylan has received support from a pediatrician and a school counselor and is in the process of getting more help. Canning said she learned to manage anxiety through cognitive behavioral therapy – which teaches clients how to change their thoughts and attitudes about the emotions that are causing them difficulty – and mindfulness after consulting with a therapist and psychologist.

But she said the recent massacre in and around the city of Portapique, Nova Scotia, added to her pandemic anxiety because she and her husband are from Nova Scotia.

“One of the places where the shooting took place, I have family there. I feel like my brain is totally overdriven, “she said. “Your body just cares about the trauma. “

With pandemic trauma expected to last for years, doctors at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health say there is an urgent need for a model that provides free and easily accessible mental health care to Canadians.

Dr. Paul Kurdyak, psychiatrist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said that more publicly funded psychotherapy is needed because most people cannot afford the high cost of treatment.

Kurdyak was the lead author of a study co-authored by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and published last month in the online journal CMAJ Open. It showed that of the nearly 13,000 primary care physicians in Ontario, only 3.2% provided publicly funded psychotherapy in 2015/2016.

Results of a 2.5-year pilot project from CAMH and three other psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, based on the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies program launched in England in 2008, could change the way mental health services are provided , did he declare.

“We are figuring out how to expand (the project) across the province now and hope to be able to deliver the same types of results to advocate for the rest of the country,” said Kurdyak, noting health care. are under provincial jurisdiction.

The program funded by the National Health Service in England is to train undergraduates to care for people with anxiety disorders and depression, said Kurdyak, adding that the patients have shown a recovery rate of 50%.

Dr. Juveria Zaheer, an emergency room psychiatrist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health and co-author of the CMAJ open study, said that pandemic isolation and job loss are so widespread that options beyond online resources and the conventional route of it is necessary to consult a doctor for mental health treatment.

“Right now, what I see immediately in the emergency room is an increase in the need for health services for very vulnerable Canadians. For example, people in precarious situations, young people and the elderly. “

The experience of the SARS pandemic in 2003, when Toronto was the epicenter of the crisis in Canada, showed that, although health care providers did well initially, they experienced mental health distress. two years later, said Zaheer.

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