NDP CALLS FOR ALBERTANS TO HAVE ACCESS TO FIVE PROVINCIALLY FUNDED MENTAL HEALTH SESSIONS
EDMONTON – Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition is calling on the provincial government to help all Albertans get through the incredibly difficult COVID-19 pandemic by making five mental health therapy sessions available through the provincial insurance plan, with an online assessment tool to help connect them with a mental health professional.
“Albertans have endured incredible stress throughout this year, from job losses to social isolation to the loss of loved ones,” said Rachel Notley, Leader of Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition. “Heading into the holidays, I know how painful it is that we won’t be able to gather with our friends and extended family. For many, the holidays are always tough, and this year will be especially hard.
“Many Albertans need someone to talk to and help them process everything they’ve been through in a healthy way.
The Opposition is calling on the provincial government to launch a simple online tool to help Albertans assess their mental health needs and then connect them to five provincially insured sessions with a registered healthcare provider. Using the provincial health care plan means no out-of-pocket costs for anyone with a provincial health number. While the cost of the recommendation will depend on Albertans’ uptake of the program, the Opposition recommends the government make a commitment to fund up to $100 million worth of mental health support.
Dr. Keith Dobson is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Calgary, as well as a senior consultant for the Opening Minds program of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. He has been at the University of Calgary since 1989 in a variety of roles, including Head of Psychology and a member of the Board of Governors. He is a recognized expert in the field of mental health and the development and delivery of psychological treatment programs.
“Mental health needs were largely unmet before the pandemic and have grown considerably since,” Dr. Dobson said. “Estimates are that rates of anxiety and depression have at least doubled since early 2020, and that rates of alcohol use and domestic violence have also increased. We have evidence-based psychological and counseling services that have been, and can be, delivered using technology. The College of Alberta Psychologists has well developed standards for the provision of this service, and there is an available pool of trained and qualified service providers. This initiative is timely and needs serious consideration by the government.”
Dr. Judi Malone, CEO of the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta, said all Albertans, regardless of income, should have access to psychological services.
“The psychological health and wellness of Albertans can be substantively improved by enhancing access to appropriate mental health treatment,” Malone said. “Community and family supports are invaluable but when psychotherapy is warranted it needs to be provided by qualified professionals. Cost is a barrier to access as there are few publicly funded psychological services.
“COVID-19 has impacted the psychological health of Albertans who were already reeling from our economic downturn,” Malone added. “We can avoid a psychological pandemic by investing in the psychological health and wellness of Albertans. Access to necessary psychological support was difficult before – and that need for the services of registered psychologists continues to grow. Without policies, programs, and services in place we cannot meet this impending demand.”
A recent study from Morneau-Shepell, a human resources firm, said Albertans reported the highest increase in stress levels of all Canadians in November. Albertans have reported some of the worst mental health in Canada throughout 2020, and currently have the third-worst, ahead of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Yesterday, on Human Rights Day, the Alberta Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, renewed its call for Albertans to have access to mental health care services in accordance with the five principles of Medicare: universal, comprehensive, accessible, portable and publicly administered. The expansion of services recommended by the Opposition would be an important step towards that goal in Alberta.
“The pandemic has made our lives much more difficult, and it’s also driven home how important it is to be proactive about our own health,” said Heather Sweet, Opposition Critic for Mental Health and Addiction. “This is an opportunity for the province to give Albertans the tools to do that. Over the past months, we have all gotten used to using an online tool to screen ourselves for the COVID-19 virus, and to be connected to testing services and health advice.
“Albertans should be able to assess their mental health at home, and have confidence that they will be connected to the help they need.”