It's time P.E.I. started treating mental health the same as physical health, says the president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

"Would I still be begging, pleading, hoping for appropriate access if I had physical health concerns like a heart concern or cancer or broken bone?" said Dr. Nachiketa Sinha. 

"I know there are gaps in service provision but it appears to me that I suffer more when I have a mental health issue. "

P.E.I.'s psychiatrist shortage has received a lot of attention recently, with calls for more investment in mental health services from P.E.I.'s chief of mental health and addictions, Dr. Heather Keizer.

'We have to pull our socks up a bit and realize that we have to provide service to the people who need it the most.' — Dr. Nachiketa Sinha

"It's not just the number per se we are concerned about," said Sinha, adding P.E.I. is not alone in Canada in its shortage of mental health professionals.

"Our real concern comes down to what these less or low numbers lead to, which is inappropriate access to care." 

The Canadian Psychiatric Association is the voice for the 4,700 psychiatrists and more than 900 psychiatric residents across the country. Dr. Sinha is based in New Brunswick and is also an assistant professor with the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University.

"Lack of access to care has a major impact," he said. 

Took the issue to Ottawa

Sinha and the association's CEO met MPs in Ottawa recently during pre-budget consultations, he said, asking for more investment in mental health across Canada.

In his presentation, he noted that while the federal government has earmarked $500 million per year for the next 10 years for mental health, his association is asking for an increase to $778 million per year. 

"I agree with the people of P.E.I. when they ask for more investments," Sinha said. 

Meanwhile, Sinha urged those suffering with mental illness not to blame themselves, and keep asking for help — just as they would if they had a physical ailment. 

"As a system we have to pull our socks up a bit and realize that we have to provide service to the people who need it the most," Sinha said. 

Income 'not the only issue'

There are several reasons for the current shortage of psychiatrists, Sinha said.

Across the country, the number of psychiatric training positions hasn't risen the way other training provisions have, he said.

"That's a long-term issue," he said, explaining changes to that policy would have an effect only a decade later. 

There are also local reasons for recruitment and retention of psychiatrists, Sinha said. 

What does he think it would it take to attract more psychiatrists to P.E.I.?

"Prince Edward Island itself has a lot of good things people would like to be a part of — but there are other issues as well," Sinha said. 

"Income is an issue, but it's not the only issue," he said, adding doctors also consider where they would like to raise a family, employment for their spouse, and support within the system to provide appropriate patient care. 

With files from CBC Radio: Island Morning