Mental health wait times and solutions
We have all heard of lengthy wait times in the province’s mental health services and the Trinity-Conception region is no exception.
However, the number of some existing programs will be increased and others will be introduced to lessen these wait times, according to David Kielly, program manager for mental health and addictions with Eastern Health. Kielly says 1,000 to 1,050 people currently need help in this region and the health authority is doing its best to keep pace with these numbers by adding to existing services and introducing others.
The main offices of Eastern Health in this area are located at Harbour Grace and Bay Roberts. Outreach clinics are done at other sites, including Old Perlican. There are around 11 clinicians, two of whom work from Bay Roberts.
Wait times have been reduced through the introduction of walk-in clinics where people get the help they need and leave, group-therapy sessions and new programs such as the Therapist Assisted Online services where the client and clinician interact through computer or similar technology.
The intake process has also been streamlined with a client now finding out within 48 hours to which service they have been referred.
The intake person is a social worker at Harbour Grace who does referrals for the entire Trinity-Conception area and decides,
at times with the help of other clinicians, the risk level of the client and the service most appropriate. So the first point of contact for the 1,000 or so people seeking mental health services throughout Trinity-Conception is the Taylor Building, where assessments are done. Small wonder that Kristyn Drover, a clinical psychologist who practises there, says she and the other clinicians feel taxed. “I can’t speak to other offices, but this office alone gets about (1,000) people”, she said. “And that’s been a steady increase for the last five years with no increase in staff.” Drover has worked from the Harbour Grace office for about 10 years.
While she cannot say definitively what caused the increase, she thinks government’s campaign of destigmatization around mental illness about five years ago could be a factor.
“They had local and prominent
celebrities (participating)” she said. “It was a wonderful ad (but) at the same time they didn’t put in place the resources for the influx of requests we were going to get.”
David Kielly says wait times exist because of the backlog that arose before new programs were introduced and referrals were rising.
“I think part of the wait list that you see now, you’ll continue to see decrease because of the responses we’ve brought in ,”he said. “It’s just that we haven’t had new programs in place long enough to really sort of trim down the backlog that occurred as things were continuously growing.” Kielly expects demand to remain constant at roughly 1,050 next year.
At present, mental health and addiction services at Eastern Health in this area, like psychiatry, are handled at Carbonear
General Hospital. According to Drover, urgent cases are seen immediately, while clients at least risk of suicide can wait up to 10 or 12 months to see her or a mental health nurse or social worker (hopefully this will decrease as new programs come on stream and walk-in clinics are increased). She would like to see money allocated to hire more clinicians, but given the province’s fiscal situation, she is not optimistic.
Adolescents from 12 to 18 are seen more quickly than adults, perhaps because in this aging population there are less of them. There is also an adolescent counsellor at Harbour Grace and youth can tap into programs especially geared to them. An email from Kielly a few weeks ago said 11 adolescents were on the wait list for mental health services.
As to psychiatric services at the local hospital, it is debatable as to how many psychiatrists we have. Drover puts it at two together with others who may offer weekend clinics. A spokesperson for Eastern Health said in a rather confusing email “there is currently one permanent psychiatrist and one temporary locum 3/4 position psychiatrist at Carbonear General Hospital.” The email further states the health authority “…is currently working on strategies to improve wait times for mental health services including psychiatry.”
To Drover’s knowledge, the psychiatrist(s) presently employed there are getting more than 600 referrals a year. A woman whose interview appeared in The Compass last month said she has been waiting a year to see a psychiatrist there. She suffers from depression and while she is getting prescriptions from her family doctor, she also says she has “no supports.” She goes on to speak of “numerous friends and family members” but her statements of “no supports” and “there’s days I’m lucky to get out of bed” are disturbing. If she has not already seen a psychiatrist since the article appeared both online and in-print in February, then her case should be given more consideration. Regrettably, no psychiatrist(s) at Carbonear General would agree to an interview.
Meanwhile, Bell is out there with a lot of money to give to mental health projects through its Let’s Talk campaign, so for anyone working in the field that’s an option-and a good one. In some cases transportation is already paid to bring people receiving government benefits to the clinician’s office. Money from that Let’s Talk campaign could be used to help more.
If you’re waiting to see a psychiatrist or therapist or just not feeling well, David Kielly advises you to go to the walkin clinic, call or “get your doctor to send something to our intake worker.” His message is “Reach Out” so don’t let talk of protracted wait times prevent you from finding assistance. For your sake and that of your loved ones please let them find a service to help you. The mental health crisis line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its number is 1-888-737-4668.