Mental health is not a destination, it’s a process. And the process could be smoothed considerably if the province offered appropriate treatment in a timely manner.
Compared to other branches of the health-care system, Manitobans with mental illness face considerable challenges: public stigma, an often complex framework of supports for mental health care and a shortage of mental health specialists.
There are other barriers, as well. Some treatment, such as psychiatric care, is covered by Manitoba Health. Others, such as sessions with a psychologist or an occupational therapist, are not.
The toll common mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and other severely limiting conditions, impose on Manitobans is heavy. That can include an inability to seek help or attempts to self-medicate through drugs or alcohol.
Mental illness affects Manitobans in all walks of life, in some cases magnifying the effects of unemployment and poverty. It can be difficult for family and friends to know how to help or advocate for their loved one to get support. And once patients have been referred to a mental health professional and/or received a diagnosis, the wait times for getting treatment can mean the condition worsens before the person gets treatment.
Manitoba isn’t alone. A report issued by Children’s Mental Health Ontario found that youth in that province are waiting for more than a year for services. The report added that the toll on their caregivers could mean a loss of more than $400 million to Ontario’s economy, thanks to loss of work and absenteeism.
According to a 2016 estimate by the Conference Board of Canada, the economic effect of depression alone on the country’s economy was $32 billion.
Solutions to mental health problems aren’t a question of simply having more money for the services — though that certainly helps. Not everyone has additional insurance for mental health services not covered by Manitoba Health.
And while a national pharmacare program would improve access to medication for those with anxiety disorders, ADHD or depression, these medication treatments are best conducted with long-term medical and therapeutic support and followup.
Manitoba, however, is taking steps in the right direction. The average wait time to see a psychiatrist in Manitoba is six to nine months; the Manitoba government promised earlier this year to increase the number of psychiatrists practising in the province. (As of 2017, there were 179 psychiatrists practising in Manitoba.)
A residency program in Brandon is one way it hopes to do that, even as the number of psychiatrists graduating from the University of Manitoba increased from 21 in 2013-16 to 37 in the past three years.
More recently, Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced $8.7 million in new funding for mental-health and addiction-related initiatives, partly to help sexually exploited youth.
These initiatives should help identify and address mental health needs for many who are getting no care at all, and could well save lives.
The province is to be commended for initiatives that target gaps in the mental health-care system. However, more is needed.
Mental illness is not a choice, but recovery is. People who choose to recover should find Manitoba offers hope through services that are adequate and prompt.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.