Governments in this country talk a lot about improving mental health services for people with anxiety, depression and other common mental health conditions. Their efforts in part focus on decreasing stigma and improving access, but the truth is that cost for therapy remains a huge barrier for many people, and will remain so under the current system in Canada. Sadly, the stigma around mental illness will remain if few can afford to access it and come to understand its benefits first hand. Canada could learn a thing or two then from the British government which is putting its money where its mouth is. It is experimenting with an ambitious and already popular mental health care service involving mainly CBT focused, “open-ended access to talk therapies backed by hard evidence”. Have a look at this article about this free therapy service that has taken off, and where you can also listen to this conversation between Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry from the British royal family as part of their “Heads Together” #oktosay campaign. Here, the princes discuss the impact of losing their mother as children, and the importance of normalizing mental health discussions as opposed to holding it all in.
The problem in Canada: Right now, only psychiatrists with long wait lisst and family doctors are covered by OHIP and few psychiatrists or family doctors actually provide counselling — certainly not long term counselling which many people need. Instead they can prescribe medication and also often refer clients to therapists like me for counselling and therapy services in Hamilton. The rest of the mental health system presents like a patchwork of services — from subsidized counselling clinics with long wait lists and lower pay for therapists, to private practitioners who need to charge higher fees to make a living and, whose clients often find it difficult to pay without having group health benefits or private insurance — insurance which is most often extremely limited, creating another problem entirely.
While there are limitations to this British experiment, the benefits are already being noted there and elsewhere. The Canadian Psychological Association for example is advocating for a similar system here. The article I draw from quotes association chief executive Karen Cohen who calls the British effort “innovative and extraordinary” stating that the effort does more than increase access to mental health care but ensure they are accountable for the kind of care they are offering.