Yesterday was Bell Let's Talk day, which is a campaign hosted by Bell Canada to reduce stigma and raise money for mental health initiatives. It is quite popular (though not without its criticism) and though Bell does need to do a better job of supporting its own people, overall I do think that the campaign does more good than harm. Yesterday I posted a series of numbered tweets with the #BellLetsTalk hashtag in order to do my part for the cause and to make a point about the need for more leadership and commitment from our governments to improve access to mental health care for Ontarians and all Canadians. I've included my tweets below (which when combined resulted in a total donation of a $1.50, thank you very much!). I've edited them into proper paragraphs and removed hashtags and other annoying Twitter trappings.
Many people in our towns and cities are struggling with mental health concerns. Some of them will seek assistance from their physician or another healthcare provider. Many who seek assistance through the public health system will face a long wait list, perhaps too long. There are so many well trained, compassionate, and committed psychologists in the public system but they can only do so much, see so many patients per day. Current funding doesn’t seem to be enough to result in shorter wait lists. The unfortunate reality is that often only the patients with very acute mental illness can be seen quickly. So what to do if you are experiencing more mild or moderate depression or anxiety and want access to psychotherapy? You can wait and see if things get better, talk to a trusted friend, or do some self help reading, but what if it’s not enough? What if it’s getting worse?
Many people in this situation seek out a psychologist in private practice such as myself. Unfortunately my services and others like them are not covered under OHIP, so psychotherapy clients must pay out of pocket. Luckily, many people have some insurance coverage through their employment but in my experience it doesn’t go very far. And of course many others have no benefits at all through their work or are struggling to find work. What are they to do? It’s good news that the fine folks at the Ontario Psychological Association are working on a system to fund psychotherapy for those in need (called Psych Aid Ontario). As well, many psychologists in private practice charge on a sliding scale which helps improve access to psychotherapy. I charge on a sliding scale, sometimes cutting the fee drastically in order to ensure a potential client can get help. I’m happy to do it and I know that many of my fellow psychologists in practice are too, but this can only reach so many people.
Psychologists offering reduced fees isn’t going to solve the gaps in our system. Come to think of it, neither is a #BellLetsTalk campaign. Both are a start. An intention to do what we can, as individual psychologists, to improve access to mental health treatment and an intention to reduce stigma, bring mental health issues out of the shadows, and raise money with the #BellLetsTalk campaign. But we need stable funding to increase access to mental health care, and more attention paid than one hashtag on one day. Because mental health issues affect everyone at one time or another, either personally or a family member or friend. 1 in 5 Canadians experiencing mental health concerns at any given time and more than 50 billion in costs to our economy. More importantly, the incalculable impact of untreated mental health diagnoses on partners, families, and children.
So I’ve just “donated” a little more than one dollar with these tweets so far which is a paltry sum. There are many great organizations working tirelessly on mental health and I’ll choose one to support today. Consider donating (more than a tweet) to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation, the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario, Psych Aid Ontario, Healthy Minds Canada or any other mental health organization. And more importantly, don’t forget to ask our politicians: what are you doing to improve access to mental health care? What are you doing Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Wynne, Dr. Philpott, and Dr. Hoskins? I’m doing my part and so are a lot of hard working psychologists but many people continue to struggle. The need is greater. So let's think beyond today and build a system to be proud of.