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Why Don't We Have Walk-in Clinics for People With Mental Illness?

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We've all been there, we've all had some sort of medical ailment that plagues us so badly that, while non-life threatening, it still requires immediate medical attention.

Here in Canada we have walk-in clinics and urgent-care centres open seven days a week (some even 24 hours a day) to treat our immediate non-life threatening physical needs. Hospitals promote such clinics left, right and centre because wait times are less, they are still one-stop shop for patients, and it takes the burden off of emergency rooms so they can deal with more critically ill patients. Most urgent-care centres still have the ability to do x-rays and do blood work with results coming in almost immediately. What a concept!

But where's such a centre or clinic for people living with mental illness? It's 2015 and in Canada we, as a society, still haven't come to the realization that people with mental illness can still have urgent and immediate psychiatric and psychological needs without it being deemed life-threatening. There are no decent services available to people who need immediate non-hospital psychiatric care.

If you're in a mental health crisis and want immediate care you either need to call the police or present yourself to the emergency room. A friend of mine told me she is dismayed that she was told by her doctor the only way for her to get immediate help is if she is suicidal or homicidal. A friend of mine who is a child and youth worker and who used to work in a group home told me she used to coach clients to say they were suicidal or homicidal in order to access immediate psychiatric care.

There are a variety of reasons why a person may need to access immediate psychiatric care. I'm not a doctor and therefore can't get into specifics as to why people need immediate psychiatric care but I can speak about why I've needed immediate psychiatric care in the past. It's been any one or a combination of these factors: Job loss, immediate loss of income, ending a relationship or friendship, challenges at work/school, endless and ongoing panic attacks, strong feelings of isolation and loneliness, etc.

Many of these things are what people without mental illness experience every day, which is why I argue we need around the clock resources available to everybody around the clock everyday. We all need assurances that we're going to be OK. Sometimes we need to take that a step further by meeting with a social worker and sometimes a doctor in a time of need.

Unfortunately, most people's first contact with the mental health system comes in a time of crisis. We don't actively promote services people can utilize to keep their mental health in check all the time or to prevent it from reaching a state of crisis, that's because these services don't really exist.

The health care system keeps telling us to keep our physical health in check because it promotes a happier and healthier lifestyle, it also keeps our health care costs low.

Isn't it about time we do the same for mental health?

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