POLITICS

Saskatchewan government endorses 10-year plan to address mental health issues

12/01/2014 12:01 EST | Updated 01/31/2015 05:59 EST
REGINA - The Saskatchewan government is supporting a plan that it says will guide efforts to address mental health and addictions issues over the next decade.

The plan offers 16 broad recommendations for improving services across the province. Ideas range from creating online services in remote communities to better respecting cultural preferences of newcomers to Saskatchewan.

Dr. Fern Stockdale Winder, the report's commissioner, said one priority is to make psychiatric and counselling services more accessible for children and youth.

"That access and capacity was the No. 1 issue we heard in the online questionnaire," she said Monday.

The report was commissioned in 2013 and its suggestions are partly based on public consultations that include responses from more than 4,000 people.

Stockdale Winder said the government needs to improve supportive housing to increase options for those getting out-patient treatment. She also spoke to the need for better communication between health-care providers and families dealing with mental-health issues.

"We need to take a more holistic, person-centred approach," she said, adding that family members reported feeling shut out from health-care decisions. "But these same family members often have valuable information and they're frequently expected to be the unofficial caregiver, so they need to know the care plan."

Dave Nelson, executive director of Saskatchewan's division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said his organization is pleased with the plan, but he's concerned about how it will be implemented.

"At least at this point, it's announced as being kind of a guideline over 10 years," he said. "There's really no investment announced."

Nelson said Saskatchewan falls "dead last" among the provinces in terms of allocated funding by per cent from provincial annual health budgets.

"We put in five per cent. The average across all the provinces is seven per cent and the recommended amount is nine per cent.

"We are substantially behind."

He said he's hoping there will be investments outlined in the spring budget, "so that it really is an action plan."

If the government puts more funding towards mental health and addictions services, it would be enough to implement many of the recommendations, Nelson suggested.

Another issue right now is that some people need to travel to get care, which takes them out of their support networks.

"We've got some really, really good programs," Nelson said, but many are only accessible in certain areas of Saskatchewan. "If we were to replicate those programs, it would cost some dollars, but the access problem would be really reduced."

The report's focus on youth and children is important to reduce stigma in general, he added.

"We all know that by the time we're adults, we've incorporated a lot of those discriminatory attitudes without even knowing about it," he said. "If you can have age-appropriate education about mental health and addictions issues, you can start to really dig into that."

A focus on mental health and addictions in aboriginal communities is also critical, he said.

Nelson said teleconferencing with patients is an example of how remote communities can access services with the help of technology.

"It's a good way to get counselling done and diagnosis done," he said.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan said the plan is an inter-ministerial effort, which will allow for co-operation between various groups.

"That provides a lot of hope that we will be able to make meaningful improvements in the system," Duncan said.