British Columbia

B.C. psychologists call on government to provide more mental health coverage under MSP

Armed with decades of scientific evidence, the B.C. Psychological Association is hoping to convince B.C. politicians to integrate behavioural and psychological care into the public health system, sooner rather than later.

Critics say existing mental health services can be hard to access and do not meet the demand

The B.C. Psychological Association has launched a campaign hoping to convince provincial politicians to integrate psychological care into the public health system. (Shutterstock/Rocketclips, Inc.)

Armed with decades of scientific evidence, the B.C. Psychological Association is hoping to convince provincial politicians to integrate psychological care into the public health system, sooner rather than later.

In mid-March, the association launched an online campaign that included expert presentations and a petition now signed by over 500 people who are calling on the government to take action.

"There's actually 40 years of evidence globally showing that integrating mental and behavioural health into health care, specifically primary health care, works. It works incredibly well," said Lesley Lutes, the association's director of public policy, speaking on CBC's The Early Edition.

The province does fund a variety of counselling services, but the intake process can take months, and services are predominantly only accessible through a hospital or mental health clinic.


Critics argue these programs fail to meet demand and are not sufficiently accessible.

"I've heard it time and time and time again from parents, from people that are seeking help —they cannot get access," said Dianne Watts, Surrey's former mayor and the former Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock, on The Early Edition.

Lutes says over 120 countries around the world have committed to strengthening the primary care system through integrating mental and behavioural health, and over 15 countries have already been doing it for years, including New Zealand

"That population is healthier physically, socially and emotionally than us, despite having exactly the same health-care budget." said Lutes.

Integrate and save money

She said B.C's health-care system was originally created with a focus on physical health which is one reason the New Zealand model is not happening here.

Another challenge, said one expert, is that the known connection between mental and physical health is relatively new.

"It's really only in the past seven to 10 years that we've fully understood that on a cellular level, " said science journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa, also speaking to The Early Edition.

Nakazawa said integrating mental health-care into the system can also save the system money.

"It's more expensive to treat anxiety disorders, depression, drug addiction, autoimmune disease. We'll spend billions catching up later," she said.

Lutes agrees, saying In 2019, BC spent $1.2 billion on pharmacological interventions for the management of chronic health and mental health conditions.

"If we implement mental and behavioural health, we absolutely will be able to reduce our dependence and reliance on treating all of our mental and behavioural health conditions solely with pharmacology," said Lutes.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson says the B.C. NDP are committed to continuing the work to integrate mental health care into primary health care across the province. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

The B.C. government took the first step in 2017 by creating the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

In a statement, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said the government is committed to continuing to work on integrating mental health into primary health care.

Malcolmson said there are mental health supports funded by the province available now, both in-person and virtually, for people who are currently in need.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated B.C. spent $20 billion last year on pharmacological interventions. In fact, the B.C. Psychological Association says the province spent $1.2 billion.
    Mar 30, 2021 4:31 PM PT

With files from The Early Edition

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