What is your position on the role of psychologists in addressing British Columbians' mental health concerns?

BCPA submitted this question to all BC leadership candidates. To date, we have only received a response from Adrian Dix (current leader of the BC NDP). Following are the full text of our question, and Dix's answer.

Q: Considering that you are asking to be elected as leader of your political party, and thus potentially to lead the province as Premier, we ask that you please state your general concerns about the mental health of British Columbians, and your specific position on the role of psychologists in addressing those concerns. Thank you.

A: Now, more than ever, there is a clear need for comprehensive, effective mental health and addiction services in BC.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has stated its branches across the province are reporting increased demand for services. The Centre for Addictions Research of BC has found that hospitalization due to alcohol and drug use increased substantially during this past decade. The BC Medical Association (BCMA) cites an estimated 400,000 British Columbians suffer from some form of addiction or dependence problem; out of three policy reports the BCMA released in 2009 on health-care services and access to care, two focused on mental health and addictions.

Yet the Ten Year Mental Health Plan proposed for BC by the sitting government, which was tabled two years late, is in too many ways a missed opportunity. The Plan does not seek to reestablish and build on effective community-based services and integrated mental health teams specializing in early intervention, prevention and ongoing support and treatment across the province. Nor did the new Mental Health Plan move forward with establishing Urgent Response Centres.

Many community-based programs were cut by the previous health minister in 2009. Not only are community-based programs recognized as best practices from a clinical perspective, they are also advantageous to the provincial treasury, and the overall economy. Caring for patients
after they deteriorate and require frequent emergency care or hospitalization is far more costly, and the rate of recovery is far lower. Early intervention and ongoing support also mitigates workplace absences and loss of productivity.

Urgent Response Centres are one form of community based services that have been long proposed for centres like Vancouver. Both the Vancouver Police Department and the City of Vancouver have recommended the creation of a 24-hour medical facility for people with mental health, addictions, and housing problems. People struggling with psychiatric diagnoses and addiction often face obstacles in accessing the health care and support they need. Urgent Response Centres can close this gap, and in the process allow the police to refocus resources.

Currently, police officers can only access services for people with mental health or addictions problems through the criminal justice system or an emergency department. For example, the VPD has reported that close to half the calls it receives in some parts of Vancouver involve people with mental illness or an addiction. Last year, the VPD spent an estimated $9 million dollars responding to such calls.

Psychologists have a key role to play in expanded community-based mental health and addiction programs and Urgent Response Centres. Successful community-based programs involve teams of mental health professionals treating patients with different modalities, including group cognitive behavioural therapy. Research indicates BC’s mental health system should consider increasing the use of CBT, as it is effective and cost efficient. Psychologists, given their training, are natural choices to help deliver expanded CBT services.

— Adrian Dix, BC NDP

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