The United Nations declared in 2020 that a mental health crisis is looming. The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and affordability crisis have only exacerbated declining mental health.
Now approaching its third year as a majority government, the BC NDP has yet to make any substantial investment in mental healthcare, despite a growing mental health crisis.
We do not have the resources to adequately care for people. As a result, visits to walk-in clinics and emergency rooms, which are ill-equipped to effectively treat mental illness, have risen. This costs our healthcare system twice as much as providing appropriate care in the first place.
Like many other issues plaguing our healthcare system, this is an equity issue. Data clearly shows that lack of access to mental healthcare is most pronounced in those with lower incomes, fewer years of education, as well as among vulnerable and minority groups.
We need to invest in mental health services where cost is not a barrier to seeking help. For many patients, even just a few appointments with a mental health professional can significantly improve mental and physical health.
The BC Greens' plan for Mental healthcare
In order to get the ball rolling, the BC Green Party has proposed an initial stage of a pilot project, which can help the Province establish a baseline for patient use and cost.
We propose a pilot project of 12 months authorizing psychologists to become eligible providers through a government funded billing system (such as MSP or an analogous Psychological Services Plan (PSP)). Patients would require a referral from their primary care physician to connect with a psychologist for six sessions per year. This structure would also allow psychologists to work alongside their patients’ primary care physicians and other medical specialty colleagues.
While the public mental healthcare pilot project would initially only provide coverage for psychologists, other mental healthcare professionals would be added at a later stage.
A first step toward incorporating new professions under a mental healthcare system is to introduce provincial regulations for therapists and counsellors by amending the Health Professions Act. Currently, anyone can provide services as a therapist or counsellor, regardless of their training and background. Provincial regulation would increase public protection, accountability, and oversight so anyone who seeks out these services knows they are being treated by a qualified individual who is accountable to a professional body.
Social workers in the healthcare sector are also an important part of providing a continuum of care in a public healthcare system. While social workers in healthcare are regulated in BC, others have a patchwork system of regulation under the Social Workers Act that exempts workers caring for some of our most vulnerable people. Work needs to be done to close loopholes in legislation that have delayed the regulation of social workers as part of the broader health professions umbrella.