Quebec's mental-health crisis requires a better response
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Lettre ouverte publiée dans la Gazette (7 mai 2020).
There already were long wait lists for psychotherapy in the public system, and the newly announced funding won't go very far.
For the past several weeks, we’ve been told to stay home and save lives.
Confinement was initially shocking, many of us were frozen, unable to explain to our children or the elderly what was happening. We were told that we will stay home until we see a decrease in COVID-19 cases. The end does not seem near.
In addition to staring at the television reports, some stared blankly at the window after receiving news of a layoff, and others stared at the computer screen unable to concentrate and complete work projects.
Stress increased as some had to manage work and childcare full-time at home. Homeschooling began and some parents were discouraged by tasks that became insurmountable. Some teenagers got increasingly worried that something terrible would happen to them or their loved one. To cope with their stress, some resorted to drinking or using drugs. Others began to withdraw from activities they previously enjoyed. Tensions in families rose. Many families were ill-prepared to spend so much time in close quarters. People’s tolerance levels began to wane, with some tempers flaring when someone got too close or coughed near them. Others grew impatient with their children. Some cried silently alone. Others held their breath as their aggressor entered their bedroom.
Even before the pandemic, patients seeking services in the public sector had to be just that: very patient. The wait sometimes extended past a year before they could be seen by a psychologist, even for those thinking of suicide.
As professionals on the front line of this mental health crisis, we want to know: How is the mental health plan announced Wednesday by Health Minister Danielle McCann really going to help people suffering from psychological distress during and after the pandemic? McCann reported that 15 per cent of the population is experiencing psychological distress in Quebec. The $31 million extra for mental health announced is the equivalent of approximately one to two sessions of psychotherapy for less than 5 per cent of the population to address post-traumatic stress, anxiety or depressive symptoms. Experienced clinicians know that people need much more than that to heal.
The government declared psychologists as an essential service at the beginning of the pandemic. Given the large number of qualified psychologists that exist in Quebec, the public needs to know that the shortage of psychologists exists only in the public sector. Most complete a decade of specialized education and then opt for the private sector where their expertise is better recognized and remunerated.
What the government announced looks like just enough to say that resources have been allocated to mental health. In fact, this seems likely to promote a two-tier system where people start the process of psychotherapy in the public sector, only to find out that addressing their needs will require additional followup in the private sector. Despite the government’s announcement, wait lists will remain and will get longer as a result of this pandemic.
To address this, the government needs to work with psychologists to create a plan that will decrease the shortage of psychologists and create opportunities and incentives for psychologists to practice their profession in the public system.The Coalition des psychologues du réseau public Québécois is ready to offer solutions that will help repair the broken mental health system in the public sector.
The people of Quebec pay their taxes and deserve to receive services that fit their unique needs. People have a right to receive physical as well as psychological health care. Specialized, mental health care should not be reserved for the wealthy. It is a fundamental right that public services offer psychotherapy in a timely manner when people need it. Especially during and following a pandemic.
Connie Scuccimarri and Béatrice Filion are psychologists writing on behalf of the Coalition des psychologues du réseau public Québécois. This article is co-signed by psychologists Stéphanie Tremblay, Karine Gauthier, Vickie Beauregard, Catherine Serra-Poirier and Isabelle Corriveau.