Mental health budget's focus more reactive, not preventative, advocate says

·3 min read
'People actually live in the community, they get supports from their community, from their families, from friends and from community-based organizations, and those almost never get adequate money put into them,' David Nelson, senior program consultant with the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), said. (Stanislaw Mikulski - stock.adobe - image credit)
'People actually live in the community, they get supports from their community, from their families, from friends and from community-based organizations, and those almost never get adequate money put into them,' David Nelson, senior program consultant with the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), said. (Stanislaw Mikulski - stock.adobe - image credit)

Saskatchewan's budget for mental health in the upcoming year totals $458 million, but a mental health advocate says more of that needs to be directed toward preventative measures.

David Nelson, senior program consultant with the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), said he's pleased that Saskatchewan is still investing money into these things in such a tough economic time, but that there's definitely room for improvement.

Nelson said his organization and others have been asking for a certain percentage of money to be going toward preventative, upstream mental health care and strategies. Saskatchewan isn't there yet, he said. Most of the money is going toward hospital care and other reactive measures.

"In mental health and mental illness in particular, a relatively small portion of time is actually spent in those kinds of services," he said.

"People actually live in the community, they get supports from their community, from their families, from friends and from community-based organizations, and those almost never get adequate money put into them."

Early care can prevent a lot of people even needing the hospital or more intense care down the line.

Mental health and addictions services combined make up 7.5 per cent of the overall health budget, which is $6.54 billion.

Nelson said he's hopeful the $5.7 million earmarked for urgent care centres in Saskatoon and Regina helps take the pressure off of emergency rooms dealing with folks in mental health crisis, as emergency rooms are not made to service those types of calls. He said he was happy the government was putting away money for those.

His team has put together a resource for the government to help implement psychiatric care into the new urgent care centres.

He brought up Samwel Uko's case as an example and said they know clearly from that tragedy that emergency rooms are not the place to care for people in crisis.

"It's been proven clinically and through research that sitting in that emergency room for sometimes six or seven hours, watching people with all kinds of injuries and everything else come in, waiting for for for assistance, that's hard on anybody," he said.

"But if you have a mental health issue, it's almost like cruelty. Right?"

A million dollars was set aside to help implement Pillars for Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan, and again, Nelson said a better understanding of community is needed.

"Just the clinic, in a medical model kind of counselling way, we know doesn't work," he said.

"That's been proven over and over again when there's been a rash of suicides and people are sent up there to help out and so on, there has to be a broader, much better understanding that community-based, land-based kind of therapies — which, by the way, cost very much less than medical clinics and so on — are part of the continuum. And we really need to start doing those."

That's not to say a clinic wouldn't be helpful, he said, but it has to be in conjunction with these other things.

Nelson added he hopes to see more money set aside for mental health in the future.