We need to reevaluate mental health care priorities
If psychiatrists and prescriptions are covered for mental health, psychologists and counselling should be too
The growing demand for mental health services in British Columbia does not match the number of services that are easily-accessible and cost-friendly. The shift of healthcare from a biomedical model standpoint to a more holistic model is a promising, yet slow, advancement that cannot keep up with the surge of people needing mental health assistance.
Mental health care experts and the public are urging the government to take action to alleviate the strain and distress on both ends and to rearrange priorities for funding these programs.
Coming out of a pandemic, the state of mental health is at an all-time high and numbers just keep on rising. A report commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) found that 27 per cent of Canadians experienced high levels of anxiety during the pandemic in June 2021, an increase from 20 per cent in April 2020. It was also reported 17 per cent experienced high levels of depression back in February 2021.
Increased awareness about mental health allows us to acknowledge that seeking professional help does not necessarily mean finding a diagnosis or asking for a prescription. Oftentimes it’s finding the right resources and support, like counselling and psychotherapy to help you navigate your thoughts and emotions which, in a way, are proactive interventions to prevent worsening problems and to recover at an early stage. But the barrier comes in the availability and accessibility of these services.
The Medical Services Plan (MSP) covers medical professionals like family physicians and psychiatrists to provide support for managing mental illnesses by ruling out symptoms, diagnosing illnesses, and prescribing medications. However, psychologists and clinical counsellors are not covered by the plan.
An individual or relationship psychotherapist costs about $225 per hour and a telephone consultation costs $56.25 every 15-minutes, as of 2021. Psychotherapy can last up to 16 sessions depending on the immediate or long-term issues being addressed. Its unaffordability discourages people from using these services, even if they need it.
Extended benefit programs in post-secondary institutions and workplaces offer coverage for mental health services but only up to a specific per cent. For Kwantlen Polytechnic University students, the Kwantlen Student Association’s extended health plan offers up to $500 of combined coverage per year, but it still limits students who need more than one of these services or need more than a couple appointments.
Private-funded services and non-profit organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) provide mental health programs like counselling services and mental health teams in the community. But with staff exhaustion and shortage of psychologists, the intake process takes months and appointment waitlists can span from six months to a year. It is preferred to have a referral from a family doctor to acquire assistance, but it takes a handful of back-and-forth communication to be able to speak to a counsellor.
The high costs and inaccessibility of mental health services prevent people from getting the help they need. Psychologists and counsellors should be as important as psychiatrists and should be covered under the MSP because they might help you address problems through therapy or coping strategies instead of relying solely on medications.
Our provincial and federal government should equalize the funds towards pharmacological interventions into more preventive treatments like therapy to meet the demands, making it cost-friendly for people and for medical professionals to receive proper wage compensation. It is time to reevaluate healthcare priorities and adapt to a more holistic approach in solving mental health needs in the community.