Mental health issues - a second pandemic concurrent to COVID?
With the stresses of this last year, our mental health system has been completely overwhelmed. Most cities only have a handful of clinics that provide a sliding scale or payment assistance, causing overly long wait times at these locations. We have found that wait times can range from three to seven months. If these wait times are not suitable, one can opt to seek treatment at a clinic that does not offer any subsidy and pay anywhere from $130-$180 per hour for an appointment. Unfortunately, this high price means that any citizen who falls in the low to lower-middle class bracket will not be able to afford nor maintain proper care.
If by some luck placement is obtained with a clinic that has a sliding scale, treatment may be short lived as some of these clinics are having to limit clients to a certain amount of sessions so that they can move people through faster—even if the client is still in need of more care. For example, the University of Lethbridge has become more strict with the number of appointments allotted to its students, allowing them only 10 visits for the year.
I was able to discuss some of these concerns with Kathryn DeLucia, a UofL student majoring in Women and Gender studies as well as a staff member of the Campus Collective Center, a peer-led support system operating at the university. DeLucia openly shared her frustration at the current management of mental health in Alberta stating, “There’s this big push from the Government and the University telling everyone to take care of their mental health but there is still no provincial help aside from private insurance.”
The Campus Collective Center in which DeLucia works offers one-on-one peer support that allows students and faculty a space to discuss life’s issues and to be directed to proper resources if needed. They also offer two online groups. One is a support group for sexual minorities and the other concerns 'food and talk'. Both groups are designed to aid individuals dealing with isolation and giving community support during these stressful times.
Typically, these services are open to only the students and faculty at UofL but as they can not easily determine who those people are online, they have been happy to leave these services accessible to the public for the time being. In discussing these services Kathryn noted that they are not a substitute for proper mental healthcare and wishes the provincial government would step up. “It would help if mental healthcare was either included in provincial healthcare or if it was made mandatory for Insurance companies to cover a substantial amount, at least 50% of the cost to make therapy more accessible,” she noted.
Bringing up an interesting fact DeLucia also stated that "...Canada is a signatory to multiple human rights treaties that require Canada to look out for the mental health of its citizens. If you spoke to any mid-to-lower class Albertan and asked them if mental healthcare was easily accessible, they would probably tell you it is not.”
Canada has indeed signed not only the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), but also the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW). Both of these treaties state that Canada must recognize and allow its citizens the right to have “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” as well as extending this right specifically to all women.
Furthermore, research has shown that DeLucia is also accurate in her assumption of accessibility of mental health to the lower and middle class Albertans; 86% of Canadians want mental health to be funded equally to physical healthcare. Furthermore, 85% of Canadians state that mental health is the most underfunded service within our healthcare system.