Mental illness affects one in five Canadians. This is a well-known statistic, but no matter how many times we say it, it still feels like a staggering number. With so many people potentially dealing with mental health issues, it takes a variety of clinicians and specialists to provide adequate treatment and care.
As a psychologist, I am but one of the options people can turn to for help.
How psychologists can help
Psychologists offer a wide range of assessments and treatment options to those struggling with mental health issues. Yes, we’re there to improve an individuals` quality of life in times of crisis, but we are also there to prevent relapse and maintaining care. From a health system perspective, psychologists can address issues with readmission rates, and we try to keep them out of the proverbial revolving door of care. To do that, we rely on comprehensive psychological assessments that help identify and diagnose various mental health issues and illnesses. This helps guide appropriate treatment, and lessens issues that can cause a relapse.
Psychologists work in inter-professional teams in hospitals and other facilities to provide care. In addition to comprehensive psychological assessments, psychologists also provide evidenced-based psychotherapies such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to provide ways to help people face fears, deal with anxiety, or add structure to their day if they are working to address depression or manage negative and challenging thoughts.
Often, we may also see patients diagnosed with concurrent disorders – these are the co-occurrence of mental health issues and substance use disorders. Part of our job is to also identify this and suggest further care as needed. It’s important that we address not just the symptoms of the illness, but also any underlying or resulting concurrent issues.
Access to care
Yet, many who are diagnosed with mental illness don’t always have an easy time of accessing treatment. The treatment individuals receive is often dependent on whether or not they have access to care without a cost.
In Ontario, many who are able to afford access to services pay for it privately, but those who can’t are stuck on wait lists, or fall through the cracks and may not receive help at all.
In fact, there is no Canadian province that covers therapy delivered by psychologists. Some families may have some coverage through extended insurance provided by employers, but it may not be enough. Of course there is some OHIP covered care that is available in hospitals but in many cases there is a limit to how many clients can be seen and how many appropriate services are available. If these services were not available, there would be no access to care.
Outside of paying out of pocket, or joining a wait list, alternate treatment options are available. Access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) through employers or Family Physicians who can refer to Psychiatrists that are covered under OHIP may be an option as well. But in terms of other non accessible evidence based therapies provided by psychologists, there is much to be done to make these services more accessible to everyone.
These are just a few of the issues that many with lived experience have to face, on top of their psychological concerns and needs.
Where do we go from here?
As a country and a province, we have to do a better job to make necessary psychotherapy accessible to all who need it. One in five Canadians suffer from mental illness. Many of these people will require appropriate comprehensive psychological assessment and long-term therapy from a psychologist. This needs funding. And while we are getting better at spreading awareness of mental health and mental illness, awareness and advocacy isn’t enough. It’s my hope that the future provides a silver lining – one where five out of five Canadians can seek the help they might need.
We have a ways to go, but by raising these important issues, we can be of more help to many Canadians suffering from mental illness.