Saskatchewan residents with more serious mental health problems are having a tough time getting the help they need, especially those 18 and under.
Tamara Hinz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Saskatoon, said that around 1,000 kids are waiting for a child psychiatry consultation in the northern half of the province.
“Children can be waiting potentially years for that assessment which just makes no sense. We are not at a level where we can see kids in a timely way when they actually need to be seen.”
She believes that the wait time problem continues in the southern portion of the province. Hinz said longer wait times also create a dire situation for those getting ready to enter adulthood.
“It’s a very difficult situation to know that if a 17-year-old is referred to child psychiatry, they likely won’t get an appointment before they turn 18 and age off of our list,” she said. “Most adult psychiatrists won’t accept a patient to their waitlist until they turn 18.”
Hinz said that there is a crisis for all age groups.
“Many doctors and nurse practitioners have difficulty finding an adult psychiatrist whose practice is open to new referrals. That’s a major issue for adult patients but also has a trickle-down effect on child psychiatry. Sometimes in our practices, we end up with young adults that we have difficulty referring because there are so few adult psychiatrists around.”
The Minister of Health said that the average wait time to access psychiatry services was about 113 days, based on information from April 2021 and September 2021.
That number does not include waitlists for private practice psychiatrists like Hinz, who manage their practices and waitlists.
Hinz said that wait times for even worse for those living in the more rural communities.
“Child psychiatrists, just by the nature of our work, have to cluster in the larger urban centres. You can’t just have a single, solo practitioner stationed in Yorkton; you need a group of colleagues to be able to work together and share in a call schedule,” she said. “When it comes to kids in rural communities, there’s not only long waits but longer commutes that add to the difficulty.”
She said that the long wait times could make it more challenging to treat those who come in seeking treatment.
“Just like any problem, things are always easier to treat or to correct when you can catch them earlier on, and most psychiatric illnesses begin in childhood or early adulthood. If we can treat these illnesses as they emerge, the prognosis is much better. The longer these things go untreated, it results in more severe the symptoms.”
Hinz said that if things go untreated and change kids a life.
“It changes their life trajectory if children can’t complete high school or they fall into addictions or crime, the most devastating income is a suicide, if they haven’t been accessing help, the stakes are really high.”
In the 2022-23 budget, the Government invested $4.1 million for more mental health workers for children and youth. The Government hopes to have over 35 more FTEs serving children and youth with those funds.
The budget announcement follows an announcement from the Government in January where they announced more residential beds operating in Saskatchewan for adults who have severe, persistent mental health needs.
Hinz said that there is no simple fix to wait times, but if there are better mental health supports, fewer people would possibly need to see a psychiatrist.
“We see the most severe symptoms or the most impairing situations. We could do in this province and everywhere really, a far better job when it comes to both primary and secondary prevention so that kids never actually need to see somebody like me, or fewer kids need to see somebody like me.”
“Secondary prevention would entail catching these symptoms early and addressing them before they become bigger issues,” she explained. “If we had greater publicly funded access to individual councillors and family therapists, if kids could easier access school councillors in the buildings where they are already in every day, I think things like that would go really far.”
“When we talk about primary prevention, we are really talking about those bigger picture societal issues, what we call social determinates of health that we know to affect all aspects of health. When you have a quarter of the children in this province sitting in poverty, that carries a poor prognosis for mental health,” she continued/
Hinz added that when you take care of kids and their families, that also takes care of their mental health.