PEI·Peace of Mind

Mental health services 'not where we need to be,' says P.E.I. minister

P.E.I. Health Minister Robert Mitchell says improving mental health services will continue to be a priority for his government but stopped short of saying there will be a significant increase in funding for those services in the upcoming budget.

Robert Mitchell says 'strategic investments' will be made, but didn't commit to increased funding

P.E.I. Health Minister Robert Mitchell didn't provide specifics about what can be expected for mental health services when P.E.I.'s 2018-19 budget is released Friday. (CBC)

P.E.I. Health Minister Robert Mitchell says improving mental health services will continue to be a priority for his government but stopped short of saying there will be a significant increase in funding for those services in the upcoming budget.

"The budget for mental health funding will continue on," Mitchell told CBC News. "We will continue to invest, because it's a really big issue."

Mitchell didn't specify where investments will be made, but said they would be "strategic." He also stressed the importance of early intervention.

"It's going to take some time. We're not where we need to be, we've all recognized that," he said.

"Mental health would be a top priority for me. Obviously we have a lot of health issues. [Health and Wellness is] a huge file. It's a $660 million file. I have a lot of pressure points there, but obviously mental health is one that we need to do more work on."

P.E.I.'s 2018-19 budget will be introduced Friday.

Lowering wait times

Mitchell said the current wait times are "concerning." CBC News previously reported that wait times for Community Mental Health services, as well as for psychiatry services, far exceed Health PEI's targets.

"We think we can get those numbers down," he said. However, he said he doesn't have a target for wait time reduction.

"We're putting more people in the system — we're putting more trained nurses, we're putting more trained psychologists," he said. "It's about getting the right numbers, it's about getting the right experience where it needs to be."

Psychiatrists and psychologists still needed

P.E.I. currently has around 13 full-time equivalent psychiatrists in the province out of a complement of 15. Critics have said there should be more positions, based on the Island's population. Mitchell didn't commit to increasing that complement.

"We struggle to get the next two," he said. "We'll try to get to 15 and then reevaluate again."

With 36 psychologists — 21 of whom work in the public sector — P.E.I. has the second-lowest number of psychologists per capita of the provinces, according to the Psychological Association of P.E.I.

Mitchell also alluded to the need to increase those numbers, but didn't commit to when and by how many.

"I think the psychologist positions play a significant role here and I think they'll play an even more important role as we move out down the future," Mitchell said.

"We look at other regions in Atlantic Canada, who's training who, so we're getting a better handle on the numbers there, so I think that will be something that we'll see in the near future."

NGOs, community groups 'part of solutions'

Mitchell said that NGOs — such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, P.E.I. Family Services and Catholic Family Services — also play a significant role in delivering mental health services across the province.

"We continue to work with those folks and try to enhance all of those programs," he said.

He said he didn't see issues with the province relying on outside services to meet some of the need.

"They want to be part of solutions too, they want to be part of good outcomes for those having mental health concerns and we want to work with them on that," he said.

This story is part of a project CBC P.E.I. is doing on mental health services in the province — Peace of Mind. You can read other stories from the project here.

More P.E.I. News

With files from Mitch Cormier and Louise Martin

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