Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Panel: Trim mental health wait times

Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald (right) greets Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan, a member of the Mental Health and Addictions Strategy Advisory Committee, at Province House on April 23rd.

An article published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

An expert panel is calling on Nova Scotia to shorten wait times for children and youths who have been referred for a mental health assessment, but the health minister says the province is already having a tough time meeting existing standards.

Maureen MacDonald was responding Monday to the release of a report from a 12-member advisory committee that produced 61 recommendations for creating the province’s first comprehensive mental health strategy.

The report highlights the fact that most mental health disorders — an estimated 70 per cent — begin to appear before age 25. However, the committee found that “long wait times for children and youth with symptoms of mental illness was a particular concern.”

As a result, the report recommends reducing wait times for children and youths beyond the existing provincial standards.

The committee says urgent cases should be offered an assessment within a week instead of 10 days, semi-urgent referrals should be offered an appointment within two weeks instead of four weeks, and regular cases should be seen within 21 days.

“We heard throughout the province that you have to get people early,” said committee co-chairman Michael Ungar, a professor at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“We know that if we can catch kids as they begin to show some of the signs related to mental illness and addictions problems … the less likely those conditions are to become chronic.”

But the province isn’t even meeting the existing standards, despite being admonished for lengthy wait times by the province’s auditor general in 2010.

“We’re the only province in the country that has mental health standards, (but) we haven’t been able to meet them and we need to do the work to get us there,” MacDonald said outside the legislature.

She said the province plans to release its mental health strategy some time this spring.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the contents of the report merely restate was is already known about the system. “It could have been said two years ago,” he said in an interview.

“Anyone … would have recognized we had to deal with the gaps, we had to invest in early intervention. To wait this length of time to receive that report is disappointing. We should have had a mental health strategy on where we’re going next.”

Dr. Stephen Ayer, executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, said the government must now take action.

“The important thing is that the committee has completed its work and now we can move on to the actual development of the strategy,” he said. “What’s more critical is what the government does with this document.”

The committee’s report — almost a year overdue — says that virtually everyone consulted for the study said there were problems with wait times and after-hours services.

The report also says there are too many gaps in the system, particularly when it comes to transitions from one service to another.

The Health Department and Community Services Department, for example, consider the transition from youth to adult at different ages, said Ungar.

Among other measures, the committee recommends expanding telephone crisis intervention services across the province, improving mental health awareness among health professionals and expanding housing options.

The committee does not say how much it would cost to implement its recommendations, saying it did not have a mandate to calculate expenses.

It is estimated that about 180,000 people in the province are affected by mental illness — that’s about one in every five.

The provincial government announced it would draft a new mental health strategy in March 2010.

At the time, a group of mental health advocates complained the mental health system was in chaos, plagued by long waiting lists and a lack of funding.
Photograph by Tim Krochak, The Chronicle Herald

Also see:

Come Together: Report & Recommendations of the Mental Health and Addictions Strategy Advisory Committee - March 2012

Come Together: Report & Recommendations of the Mental Health and Addictions Strategy Advisory Committee - Summary - March 2012

Mental Health and Addictions Strategy Advisory Committee Releases Report

Child Medication Guide Stresses Need for Team Effort

To download the entire guide (PDF), please click here.

Also see:

Child Medication Guide Stresses Need for Team Effort

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Monday, April 23, 2012

Superhero - A Visual Poem

One of the many comments posted on YouTube about this video:
Mental health is so hard to understand, so hard to grasp for everyone ... finally a short film, a beautiful poem, a true piece of art that can connect people with with the words and the feelings that are oh so hard to share. Thank you Hachey. Thank you Laura. You've done it right.

Posted by emptypink

Also visit:

Mark Vonnegut: "Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So" (Rebroadcast)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia on Mental Illness

Stephen Ayer of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia talks the perceptions of mental illness following the death of Raymond Taavel.

Also see:

Stephen Ayer interviewed on Information Morning

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Strengthening Families Together delivered in Pictou County

Pictured from left to right are Dr. Ian Slayter, Sheila Chisholm, a program participant, and Cecilia McRae, program facilitator.

On April 3rd, the Pictou County Family Support Group delivered Sessions #1 & #2 of Strengthening Families Together, a free ten-session educational program for families affected by serious mental illness. The guest speaker for the evening was Dr. Ian Slayter, a clinical psychiatrist working with GASHA at St. Martha's Hospital in Antigonish. Dr. Slayter’s interactive presentation focused on psychosis. Session #3, with an interactive presentation on treatment and medications by Bill Skinner, a pharmacist with Lawtons Drugs in New Glasgow, was held on April 10th.

Funding for the program has been provided by the Pictou County Health Authority Wellness Fund, with meeting space and technical support supplied by the Nova Scotia Community College - Pictou Campus.

The Pictou County Family Support Group is new to Pictou County and was established to meet a need in the county. The group was developed with the assistance of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia and with funding from the Canada Post Foundation for Mental Illness and Mental Health. The support group meets every second Tuesday of each month, except for July and August, and is open to family members, care providers, and community partners.

Information for both the Pictou County Family Support Group and future sessions of the Strengthening Families Together program can be found in the Community Happenings section of The News.

Also see:

Strengthening Families Together - Pictou County

Support the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia by purchasing a handcrafted birdhouse!

$40.00 each!

Please click on the photograph to enlarge it.

A member has donated handcrafted bird houses to the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia. The bird houses are available for purchase for $40.00 (plus shipping) by contacting the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia at (902) 465-2601 or 1-800-465-2601 (toll-free in Nova Scotia) or by sending an email to ssns@ns.sympatico.ca.

Stop Blaming Me for my Daughter's Mental Illness

An article posted on April 12th by The Huffington Post - Canada:
By Susan Inman (pictured)

As the parent of someone with a severe schizoaffective disorder, I'm used to being viewed with suspicion. Sometimes the pathologizing gaze occurs in unexpected places. Following the publication of an article I wrote for B.C. Teacher about the importance of educating staff in schools about mental disorders, a fellow teacher asked me if I knew what we'd done to cause my daughter's illness.

The unjustified suspicion of mental health professionals can be even more damaging. When we took our floundering teenage daughter to a credentialed counseling psychologist, we knew nothing about severe mental illnesses. As it turned out, neither did she. Her training included no material on psychotic disorders. Instead, it focused on psychodynamic theories, which look for the causes of current problems in people's early childhood experiences. Her misguided assumptions, fed by her training, led to chaos in the early years of our daughter's illness and to an unnecessarily long and dangerous psychotic episode.

Even with recent decades of robust research in neuroscience, parental caregivers of people with psychotic disorders soon learn that their interactions with the mental health system will be filled with blame. Many mental health clinicians in Canada, like our daughter's counselor, have had no science-based training on schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Too often their interactions with families weaken the bonds that the illnesses have already frayed.

Psychiatry, for most of the 20th century, used the theories of Freud, which were never based on evidence-based research, to develop elaborate ways of blaming parents for schizophrenia. The Canadian Psychiatric Association now explicitly describes schizophrenia as a treatable brain disorder that is not caused by poor parenting.

Our relationship with our daughter's psychiatrist has been extraordinary. I believe it is responsible for her unexpected recovery. When the psychiatric team at Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital first met her, she was one of the most severely psychotic teenagers they had ever seen. From the time that one member of this team, our daughter's current psychiatrist, began to work with her, he listened carefully to our input as we navigated the arduous path to her stability.

Even with this history of mutual respect, my husband and I were stunned recently when we were discussing strategies for managing any difficulties that might emerge during an upcoming trip. He stopped the discussion, looked at us, and said, "You guys are such great parents!"

I'm immersed in a community of parental caregivers in Vancouver and have been asking if anyone has ever been told anything like this. The answer is, "Never." These friends, who constantly inspire me with their energy, dedication and resourcefulness in advocating for their struggling children, find it hard to imagine hearing this kind of supportive response. Instead, my question is usually greeted with yet another account of the wounding of families by the mental health system.

Some parents do receive much-needed support from their own family physicians, who also provide primary healthcare to their often unstable sons and daughters. For many years, both my husband and I have freely vented, grieved, and tried to problem solve with the informed and compassionate help of our family doctor.

In recent years, the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the College of Family Physicians of Canada have begun an active collaboration including an annual Shared-Care conference. Much of the focus has been on helping family physicians become more knowledgeable in responding to the serious mental illnesses they are increasingly being asked to manage.

The upcoming Shared-Care conference in Vancouver offers richly informative sessions for family physicians. However, I don't see any sessions that provide family physicians opportunities to share their often considerable expertise in helping parents survive their daunting tasks. Fortunately, this kind of conference does invite informal communication on just these kinds of overlooked topics. Since family caregivers for people with severe mental illnesses save the healthcare system money, new ways of supporting them are well worth considering.
Photo credit

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Support the SSNS by purchasing all occasion cards!

$1.00 each!

Mary Ellen McMurtry, a Maritime artist, has donated a collection of original and one-of-a-kind greeting cards to assist the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia in fundraising.

Two sizes of cards are available to purchase from the SSNS, 7" x 5" and 8.5" x 5.5".

All cards cost $1.00 each (no HST), do not have the watermark or title, are blank inside, and include a mailing envelope.


Other examples of the many cards available for purchase are:

If you are interested in viewing further examples of the greeting cards available for purchase, please contact the SSNS at (902) 465-2601 or 1-800-465-2601 or by sending an email to ssns@ns.sympatico.ca.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fear for kids’ future

A letter to the editor published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
Re: "A cry from the heart: Save our mental health staff." Kudos to Ally Dawson, the 16-year-old who is gave us the perspective from an (Adolescent Centre for Treatment) client. ACT is a 24 / 7 operation, and is being changed by the IWK to a 24 / 5 operation.

Ally spoke articulately from her heart in support of the program and the youth care workers, whom she has dealt with first-hand.

Why is it that when ever there are budget restraints, it is always the most vulnerable that get affected? Why is it that "top heavy" management is never affected by these decisions, or at the very minimum, equally affected? Although according to a response I received from Premier Darrell Dexter’s office, "there is no budget cut involved with this decision. In fact, mental health services are exempt from the restraint targets in the province’s multi-year plan to get back to balance."

Mr. Dexter [pictured], himself, states "…the design and delivery of mental health services are done by professionals in the field. As you would expect, we fund the DHAs (District Health Authorities) who make the decisions on the best mix of these services, based on knowledge, skill and advice. Over many years, this model has proved successful. I trust and expect that it will continue to do so."

I certainly hope he is right. The public needs an explanation as to what this proven successful model is.

What will this do to the kids in these programs? How many of them will fall through the cracks as a result of this decision? How many youth suicides will we have to deal with, and how many have to land in jail before we realize that this is a mistake?

My heart goes out to Ally and all the clients of the ACT and Compass programs and to the youth care workers who work with them because they love to. It takes special people to do these jobs, and they don’t have to have half a dozen initials after their names to be qualified, professional and do an "amazing" job.

M.L. (Speranza) Anstey, Antigonish
Photo credit

Also see:

Adolescent Centre for Treatment (PDF)

Compass, Centre for Collaborative Child and Family Treatment