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Published on January 25th, 2017 | from CAMH

Raising the profile of mental health across Canada

By Dr. Paul Kurdyak, CAMH Medical Director, Performance Improvement

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Dr. Paul Kurdyak

Bell Let’s Talk is a great way to raise the profile of mental health across Canada. It encourages people to reach out to one another, using courageous celebrities talking openly about their own experience with mental illness.  In so doing, it normalizes mental health, and reduces stigma.

This is important because many people who suffer from mental illness and addiction do not seek help, even though there is ample evidence that they can benefit greatly when they do take that first step.

At CAMH, in 2010, we had a similar initiative in downtown Toronto. In subways and TTC bus shelters, we put up posters encouraging people to seek help if they were suffering from a mental illness. One of the central goals of that campaign was to let people who were suffering know that CAMH is a place they can go for help. To evaluate whether this awareness campaign was working, we tracked the number of visits to the CAMH emergency department. We found an immediate and sustained increase in emergency department visits to CAMH that lasted for the duration of the campaign (as well as a spike in visits to some other nearby downtown hospitals). This shows that mental health awareness campaigns like this and Bell Let’s Talk have the potential to convince people to stop suffering in silence and seek help, which is fantastic.

But how accessible is our mental health system today once people decide to seek help? How good are we at turning talk into action? We know that even among patients who are hospitalized for mental illness, only one in ten will see a psychiatrist within a week after they are discharged.  We know that the rate of mental health-related emergency department visits by children and youth are increasing dramatically. We also know that the current roster of Ontario psychiatrists is in short supply in many regions throughout the province and many older psychiatrists are nearing retirement. All this points to a mental health system that is not accessible enough for those who need help.

And it will only get worse without substantial changes.

What do those changes look like? Primary care is the place where most people go with mental health problems. We need to do a better job integrating mental health supports into primary care, so that mental health care is immediately accessible where people are most likely to seek it. This kind of integration would mean that our current roster of psychiatrists could provide care to more patients because they would be working closely with primary care physicians and, in so doing, provide indirect care to many more patients than they can see on a one-on-one basis  in an office setting.

Delivering mental health care remotely via videoconferencing is another way we can bring improved access, especially in more rural areas where the shortage of psychiatrists is more acute and will only get worse as older psychiatrists retire and the younger ones do not take their place.

For the millions of Canadians who will step forward and talk about mental health today, let’s start innovating and implementing these and other solutions right now. Let’s tell the one in five Canadians dealing with mental illness right now… “we hear you, and we’re here for you.”

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