Warning that province is unprepared to meet mental health needs

David Swann warns the province is unprepared to meet the mental health needs of Ft. McMurray residents and first responders

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann yesterday warned that Alberta is unprepared to meet the complex and ongoing mental health needs of Fort McMurray residents and first responders.

“Alberta is facing an unprecedented crisis in mental health. More than 80,000 people have been forced to flee a disaster which devastated their community. If only a fraction of these individuals require help, our already teetering mental health system could collapse,” Swann said in a statement to the Alberta Legislature.

Swann indicated that the government needs to do three things immediately to “avert a domino effect and further crisis in the health system.”

The first is to educate the public, and in particular evacuees and first responders, about mental health.

“There is still a stigma associated with mental health problems and many of those in Ft. McMurray won’t realize or won’t want to admit they need help,” Swann said.

Second, those who fled the fire need ready access to publicly funded psychologists and other trauma experts thereby freeing psychologists to work with critical trauma cases.

Third, the health system must provide patient navigators to guide those in need through a complicated and sometimes overwhelming health system.

“To do nothing or to make half-measures merely moves the problem forward in time and exponentially increases both cost and suffering,” Swann concluded.

--DAVID SWANN’S FULL STATEMENT TO THE LEGISLATURE--

Thank you Mr. Speaker,

Alberta is facing an unprecedented crisis in mental health. More than 80,000 people have been forced to flee a disaster which devastated their community. If only a fraction of these individuals require help, our already teetering mental health system could collapse.

In the coming months, most of us will remember the fire as a terrible event and move on with our lives. For the residents and first responders of Ft. McMurray, though, moving on may be a process fraught with challenges for many years. 

Recovery from major emotional loss and trauma is a difficult and delicate process, with no two people having the same experience. What is certain, though, is that left alone this type of trauma can cause severe suffering whether it be overt, such as alcohol abuse or family violence, or subtle, such as anger or depression.

To avert a ‘domino’ effect and further crisis in the health system, the government must provide three things:

The first is public education. There is still a stigma associated with mental health problems and many of those in Ft. McMurray won’t realize or won’t want to admit they need help. The consequences of ignoring effects of trauma are harmful not only to the sufferer but to their family, their friends and their community.

The second is early access to funded psychologists and other experienced trauma professionals that may be unaffordable privately, who can offer screening, triage and timely referral thereby reducing wait times and freeing up psychiatrists for more critical patients. 

The third is a navigator or primary care-giver to ensure the various financial, medical and psychological supports communicate and work together through integrated care plans over the coming year.

I am fully aware that these recommendations require substantial new money from a budget already strained, but the money must be found – either in our own budget or through federal assistance.

To do nothing or to make half-measures merely moves the problem forward in time and exponentially increases both cost and suffering.