The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) is calling attention to the need for better mental health services as an election issue.
Dr. Mark Brown is a family physician in Moose Jaw and the president of the SMA. He says doctors in the organization have flagged mental health care as one of the top four issues in the province.
“I think that mental health is a major part of health care,” Brown explained. “As a family physician, personally we deal with a lot of mental health issues on a day to day basis.”
He says many physical symptoms are often linked to emotional distress.
According to the SMA, the province will require 50 new full time psychiatrist positions by the year 2023, that’s why it says recruiting medical students into psychiatry residency programs should be a priority.
“It’s massive in the sense that there is a shortage of psychiatrists, but I don’t think it’s just about psychiatrists, I think we need more effective and more resources and more mental health care teams,” Brown explained.
Ideally, he says that should include more psychologists, counselors and social workers, but family doctors should also be part of those teams because they have more personal relationships with their patients.
Brown notes that wait times to see mental health specialists like psychiatrists vary according to need. If a patient walked into his office in an emergency crisis situation, that person could get a referral to see a specialist on the same day.
“What is more difficult is people who aren’t necessarily in crisis but do have significant mental health problems – those waits might be longer and that varies from place to place,” he said, adding that it’s important to improve awareness so people can get help before they wind up in crisis.
Brown insists that the SMA is not trying to choose one party in preference over another; it is simply trying to bring the discussion on mental health to the forefront of the election campaign.
“We know from research done elsewhere that if we do put extra resources into mental health, there are downstream benefits to it in terms of the economy, productivity of our society and in terms of reducing other forms of illnesses,” Brown explained.
In a news release, the SMA calls on the government to boost the funding of mental health services in the province to seven per cent from the current five per cent of the overall health care budget. It also says the provincial government should start acting on 16 recommendations from it’s own 10 year action plan for mental health and addictions entitled Working Together for Change which was released in 2014.