VICTORIA, B.C. - With mental health in decline during the COVID-19 pandemic, the B.C. Green Caucus is proposing a 12-month pilot project that would allow psychologists to become eligible providers of mental health services through government funded billing. This would help expand the access and affordability of mental health services and ensure all British Columbians can access the health care they require.
“Even though most of us have not been infected directly by the virus, we have all been deeply impacted by it and I am very concerned about everyone's mental health and well-being. This pilot project would help ensure more British Columbians have access to the care they need - helping people thrive, not just survive,” said Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley. “We responded quickly to how COVID-19 threatens our physical health; we need to do the same to protect our mental health. Investing in mental and wellbeing will be critical to our recovery.”
The United Nations recently declared that a mental health crisis is looming. Although we’ve managed to avoid the worst of COVID-19 in B.C., the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the mental health of many. Surveys have found that more people are struggling with feelings of anxiety, worry, stress, and loneliness as the pandemic progresses. Most recently, a survey of 400,000 British Columbians found that almost half of respondents feel their mental health is worsening. Over 728 people have died so far in 2020 from toxic drug poisoning.
“Our health care system does not provide the specialized mental health care treatment people need,” said B.C. Green Party interim leader Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich-North and the Islands. “As a result, our walk-in clinics and emergency rooms become the de facto provider for people experiencing mental health challenges. Ineffectively treating mental illness costs our healthcare system twice as much as providing appropriate care in the first place.
“Current data ranks anxiety and depression as the 6th leading reason people visit their primary care providers. And that was before the coronavirus pandemic started. Primary care providers alone cannot be expected to carry the weight of a worsening mental health crisis.”
A 12-month pilot project authorizing psychologists to become eligible providers through a government funded billing system (such as MSP or an analogous Psychological Services Plan (PSP)) for consultation and psychotherapy would allow them to work alongside their primary care physician and other medical specialty colleagues. To help structure the program, patients would require a GP referral to connect with a psychologist and be limited to 6 sessions per year.
Data clearly shows that lack of access to mental healthcare is most pronounced in those with lower incomes, fewer years of education, minority groups, and people with other vulnerabilities. Wellbeing, and using stimulus spending to address structural inequalities for marginalized groups, is the 7th value in the Caucus Green Recovery Framework.
“We are going through a really challenging time - it is okay and normal to need additional support. We should work towards a healthcare system that is truly universal and inclusive of both physical and mental health,” said MLA Olsen.
“We’ve taken a measured approach here and used every opportunity to ask the Minister about mental health in Question Period this week. The Minister's answers demonstrate her commitment to improving access to specialized mental health care, we are hoping this proposal will help advance that work.”
An overview of the proposal and related data was shared with government in advance for their consideration. During Question Period this afternoon, MLA Furstenau will ask if they are willing to advance it.
This proposal was informed by the work of Dr. Lesley Lutes, Professor of Psychology at UBC Okanagan and executive with the BC Psychological Association
“Life is hard. Everyone needs support. Everyone. Whether it is needing a little bit of preventative and general support, for things such as acute stress (COVID-19, work-life balance, stress management) to needing support for managing more chronic health conditions such as obesity, chronic pain, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, COPD, to social and emotional struggles including anxiety, depression, divorce, to the most extreme challenges in life including trauma, addiction, serious mental illness, and risk of suicide. Wouldn’t it be amazing, despite all of the sadness, loss, and challenges of COVID-19, that as a province we chose to seize the moment of what we are seeing, feeling, and what the science/data tells us - and embrace the health and well-being of every resident in British Columbia - which includes the social, emotional, and behavioral elements of their health - not just the absence of disease.”
B.C. Green Caucus
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