Long wait times for child psychiatrists hurt kids, says Saskatoon mom

There are 67 psychiatrists employed in the province, up from 2013 when there were 47, but the Canadian Psychiatric Association suggests Saskatchewan should have 170.

Health Minister says province is working to hire more psychiatrists

Megan, left, and her mother Becky Henderson, right, say long child psychiatric wait times in Saskatchewan are unacceptable. (CBC)

Saskatoon mom Becky Henderson doesn't mince words when talking about her daughter's two-year wait to see a psychiatrist.

A lot of children are suffering unnecessarily.- Becky Henderson 

Henderson told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning she feared her daughter might kill herself.

"I became her 100 per cent sole support system… I couldn't just walk away from her," said Henderson.

"It was heart-breaking. It was very frustrating. I was very angry."

The long wait

Megan Henderson's long journey to mental wellness began when she was in Grade 8 and a panic disorder became too much to handle.

"It just took me a while to kind of recuperate from the school day," she said.

But those days began to pile up, one after the other, until Megan's principal one day asked her to go to the emergency room to get some treatment. 

"They just put me on a prescription and said, 'Here, just deal with it until we can deal with it,'" Megan said.

And so the wait began.

3 years into action plan

This week wait times to see psychiatrists in the province came back into the spotlight after the province's Children's Advocate, and the Opposition NDP, started sounding the alarm, again.

Opposition health critic Danielle Chartier said the fact that mental health wasn't mentioned in the government's throne speech shows it's not a priority.

"This government has a 10-year mental health and addictions action plan on which we've seen very little action," Chartier said. 

"We're already three years into that action plan and things aren't getting any better."

Health Minister Jim Reiter said the hiring of more psychiatrists is in the works.

"When you see this kind of a wait time it's very troubling and we're going to take action," he said following Question Period on Tuesday.

Shown here in 2014, Megan Henderson waited two years for an appointment with a child psychiatrist, to help with her severe anxiety from a panic disorder. (CBC)

Number of psychiatrists up slightly

There are 67 psychiatrists employed in the province, a number that's been steady increasing since 2013 when there were 47.

However, the Canadian Psychiatric Association suggests Saskatchewan should have 170 psychiatrists so while the numbers are up, they aren't high enough.

"Much of this is driven by vacancies while they're recruiting for permanent positions," Reiter said. 

Reiter said while the wait time to see a child psychiatrist is up to two years in Saskatoon, it's about four months in the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region, where there are five child psychiatrists employed, and six to 12 weeks in Prince Albert Parkland, where there is only one.

There are eight child psychiatrists working for the health region in Saskatoon. 

Health Minister Jim Reiter says wait times for children and youth to see a psychiatrist varies from health region to health region. (CBC)

Mom says children are suffering

For Becky Henderson, it's unacceptable that young people in need of mental health care wait years to see a psychiatrist and suffer the way her daughter had to.

"Without that critical care immediately it is leading to a lot more severe problems in the long run, I think," she said.

"A lot of children are suffering unnecessarily."

Megan Henderson is healthier now. She eventually did see a psychiatrist and along with the panic disorder, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"It's not something to be ashamed about," she said.

In fact, Henderson has become a bit of a mental health activist, speaking out and encouraging others who are struggling to do the same, and she has a message for young people who are waiting for the help they so desperately need: "You are not a burden. You are here and you are worth it."


Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.

with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning