Province’s approach to mental health is a good start

The Alberta government is taking more action on mental health.

Earlier this week, the province accepted a report – titled ‘Valuing Mental Health: Report of the Alberta Mental Health Review Committee’ – in principle, and will be taking immediate action on six priority recommendations, they announced on Monday.

These recommendations include establishing a leadership team to work with community and health partners to develop an action plan to implement the report; increasing technology-based solutions by launching a child and youth mental health web site this spring; expanding access to addiction treatment by opening three new social detoxification beds for children and youth in Calgary; adding medical detox beds for adults, including six to eight new beds in Lethbridge and converting 20 beds in Red Deer from social to medical detox; working in partnership with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to develop an opiate addiction action plan and implementing a performance monitoring and evaluation framework to track results on report recommendations and benefits to Albertans.

These are critical first steps to helping those who suffer with mental illness in our province. This is an issue that can often be forgotten or left on the sidelines. But now with all the pressures that many Albertans are facing due to the sluggish economy, the timing couldn’t be more fitting.

The Mental Health Review was chaired by Dr. David Swann, MLA for Calgary Mountain View and leader of the Alberta Liberals.

Wellness Alberta is urging the Notley government to invest more resources in prevention by quickly adopting all of the relevant recommendations in the Swann report.

Mental illness is a major contributor to chronic disease and the Canadian Institute for Health Information has projected that mental illness will be among the leading causes of disability by 2030. Chronic disease currently represents 90% of the illness burden in Canada.

Also, Mara Grunau, executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention, is pleased to see suicide prevention prioritized in the report.

The report urges Albertans to reclaim their role as frontrunners in suicide prevention with leadership from the Government of Alberta collaborating with Alberta Health Services, the Centre for Suicide Prevention and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Each year more Albertans die by suicide than in traffic fatalities, officials said.

Alberta has the second highest suicide rate among the provinces and the rate is climbing as we have heard this year as the economy continues to tank.

In identifying suicide prevention as a priority, the Report calls for sustained, “Funding and leadership through mandating the Addiction and Mental Health Implementation Team to coordinate activities and interventions across Alberta to support individuals, families and communities in addressing this issue (suicide).”

Officials point out that the Centre for Suicide Prevention is ready for this collaborative work. It is poised to be an active part of the implementation plan.

As a branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Centre for Suicide Prevention has been educating caregivers with the knowledge and skills to respond to people at risk of suicide.

Education is a best-practice in suicide prevention: everyone must all learn to identify people at risk and develop the skills to respond.

As mentioned, the Mental Health Review was led by a committee co-chaired by Swann and Danielle Larivee, minister of Municipal Affairs and MLA for Lesser Slave Lake.

Tyler White, CEO for Siksika Health Services and Heather Sweet, MLA for Edmonton-Manning were committee members.

“The current mental health system is not meeting the needs of an increasing number of Albertans. We can and must do better. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Albertans have heard this,” said Swann. “Successful implementation of the Mental Health Review will require a higher level of leadership from Alberta Health, and the new AHS board, than that provided by previous governments. Today’s six priority recommendations are an excellent start.”