March 11, 2020 (Toronto) – Publicly-funded physician psychotherapy is only available to a fraction of those with urgent mental health needs in Ontario, according to a joint study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and ICES published today in CMAJ Open.
The study confirms that there are far too few physicians providing publicly-funded psychotherapy in Ontario to meet the demand for it, and those physicians are concentrated in large urban areas and are rarely able to take on new patients with urgent mental health needs.
“The need for innovations in mental health to improve access and quality of care is urgent,” said lead author Dr. Paul Kurdyak, Director of Health Outcomes and Performance Evaluation in the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH and lead of the Mental Health and Addictions Research Program at ICES. “But increasing the number of physicians who provide psychotherapy alone will not solve the existing problem of poor access to psychotherapy in a publicly-funded system.”
The study focused on the availability of publicly-funded psychotherapy provided by physicians in Ontario. Psychotherapy is an evidence-based treatment for conditions like depression and anxiety, two of the most common psychiatric disorders. Treatment guidelines suggest that structured, evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) should be a front-line treatment option for patients with mild to moderate depression or anxiety.
Historically, most access to publicly-funded psychotherapy in Ontario has been provided by psychiatrists or family physician psychotherapists. But there are less than 1,000 of them in Ontario (out of a total physician population of over 12,000) and they see a much smaller number of patients on average.
While access to urgent care was low in general (more than half of all patients who sought care for mental health including addictions issues at an Emergency Department did not see any physicians within a month of the visit) access to psychotherapist physicians was even lower. Only two to three per cent of patients with urgent need were able to access psychotherapist physicians.