Megan Henderson says despite 18-months of trying she still doesn’t have an appointment with a child psychiatrist, to help with her severe anxiety.
The 15-year-old and her parents say she has a panic disorder, which runs in the family.
“People are always like, ‘Don't worry, don't worry and its like, ‘Sorry I can't do that,’ Megan told CBC’s iTeam. “Like there's something in my brain that just triggers it that I just worry about the little bit of things.”
Megan said the consequences have been severe.
“I'd feel like I was going to throw up because I was so nervous. I was nervous to go to school and I wanted to go home,” Megan said. “Like I can barely breathe and I've thrown up a couple times and just shut down like I was sick.”
Megan’s mom, Becky, said her daughter was diagnosed with panic disorder when she was 9-years-old and she’s struggled with it on and off ever since.
“It’s a vicious circle and it doesn’t stop. It’s not something she has control of and without the help she lost all control,” Becky explained.
From bad to worse
She said in the fall of 2012 things appeared to get worse.
Becky said Megan was increasingly overcome with worry and it was affecting her relationships and ability to function at school.
'It’s a vicious circle and it doesn’t stop.' - Becky Henderson
During one crisis she and her husband took Megan to emergency and she was referred to a child psychiatrist.
“At that point we were told ‘one year waiting list.’”
But 18-months later “we’re still waiting.”
Becky said they have the support of their family doctor. But she argued it’s not reasonable to expect him to make intricate decisions about Megan’s psychiatric medication.
“My family doctor did specifically say to me that he wasn’t comfortable changing it up and doing those kinds of things because he knows that’s not his expertise. And rightfully so.”
Saskatoon Health Region admits there’s a problem
The woman responsible for overseeing psychiatric services for the Saskatoon Health Region said the Henderson’s story highlights a real concern.
“It doesn’t surprise me because I know the waiting lists for child psychiatry are very long,” said Dr. Marilyn Baetz.
Baetz wears two hats; one with the health region and the other as head of the department of Psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan.
Baetz said on average there’s a 12 month wait for psychiatric service in the Saskatoon region. However she pointed out “if there’s an acute problem, they come to the emergency and they’re seen right away.”
She said she’s concerned to hear of Megan’s 18-month wait.
“To have a young person at that age in that development stage in their life wait for (more than) one year, it really is a travesty.”
Baetz said the reason for the long waits is a shortage of psychiatrists; especially child psychiatrists. The region has 7 of them.
“For child psychiatry we’re probably not even at one third to one half of what we need, at that’s with the new recruits coming on board.”
Saskatchewan near the bottom of the pack
According to data from the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Saskatchewan has consistently had among the lowest number of psychiatrists in Canada on a per capita basis.
Guidelines from the Canadian Psychiatric Association suggest Saskatchewan should have 170 psychiatrist yet 2014 CMA numbers show the province has just 72.
By contrast, Manitoba has 170 psychiatrists though the provinces population is just slightly larger than Saskatchewan’s.
All provinces fall short of the industry benchmark but only New Brunswick has a more severe shortage.
The CMA numbers are disputed by the provincial government which says Saskatchewan has 96 psychiatrists. That is still well below industry standards.
Searching for solutions to a shortage
Baetz said the psychiatry positions have proven difficult to fill. That’s partly due to Saskatchewan’s less-than-attractive weather.
She said it’s also because there may be the perception that Saskatchewan doesn’t have the sort of professionally supportive environment offered in other locations.
“One of the other things that’s really important for recruitment that is significant is to have a well-established mental health support team around you,” Baetz told CBC’s iTeam. “In other centers maybe some of that is more advanced than our province is.”
Baetz said the region and the provincial government are focused on recruiting, retaining and training more psychiatrists in Saskatchewan in order to address the shortage.