Moncton Hospital Chief of Staff and New Brunswick Medical Society president-elect Dr. Serge Melanson says the shortage of public sector psychologists in New Brunswick is concerning and putting youth at risk.
Melanson told Global News there’s been an increase in youth and adolescents showing up to the emergency room in crisis after being unable to receive the services they need through the formal system due to the shortage of psychologists.
On Monday, Global News confirmed there are 31 unfilled psychologist positions within the public health and education systems in New Brunswick.
“We’re seeing an exponential growth in problems with mental health and we know that our school boards and school districts are having a very difficult time addressing their long-term psychology needs because of the limited public psychology therapies in our schools,” Melanson said.
He said the shortage has created long wait times for initial appointments with psychologists in the pubic health system and said once patients get in they may have to go months between appointments.
“What these young people need in particular is ongoing care and we’re seeing that with the shortage of psychologists we have in our province and our public system in particular and our schools, we’re concerned that our patients are not receiving the care they should deserve,” Melanson said.
“If you can’t guarantee that patients will be seen in a timely fashion repeatedly to make sure that they’re improving then essentially that sabotages the entire therapy right there.”
Melanson said it’s frustrating for patients and doctors who are trying to help them access mental health services. He said family doctors are often the first point of contact for people looking for mental health help.
“I hear it very frequently actually from our family doctors in the province as well as other health-care professionals that see this reality with their patients almost every day. So what we’re facing is a fundamental mismatch between the demand that’s required to help these patients overcome their mental health barriers and the actual amount of services we have available to offer them in the public sector,” Melanson said.
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Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick executive director Christa Baldwin said the shortage is concerning but said it’s a positive that more people are asking for help with mental health issues. Baldwin said that while some people do require the expertise of a psychologist, she said not everyone needs the in-depth therapies provided by a registered psychologist.
“I think we need to pay attention to the fact that not everybody needs that type of service. Most people actually benefit from community programming,” Baldwin said. “We have programming, for example, in our cities where if people are on a waitlist with the formal system, they come to us and we provide programming and a lot of times people need an understanding of their mental illness, they need to understand that they’re not alone.”
Baldwin said it’s important to put money into the formal system, but said more money needs to be put into community NGOs like the Canadian Mental Health.
“Quality NGOs, they provide quality service and they save lives, they don’t save lives from hospital beds, but they save lives in the community, so when we look at a more effective and efficient mental health system in our province I think we’re negligent if we don’t pay attention to what the community can provide,” Baldwin said.
“Part of being involved in community programming is people can involve or develop a support network, so those pieces are key in terms of moving people forward in their recovery. We also offer employment counseling and employment programming so certainly helping people with mental illness to get them back into the workforce is extremely important again for their recovery,” Baldwin said.
Melanson said the province needs to look at the “mismatch” and do a better job with recruiting and retaining the psychologists that have moved from the public sector to the private one and find out their reasons for making the switch.
“We need to explore what we can do to entice people to stay,” Melanson said.
“We live in a province, live in a country where we should be, we should have a health-care system that no matter what a person makes in terms of salary that they’re able to receive the support services they need. So for example, if someone breaks a leg they head to the hospital and they have a cast — there’s no wait time for that, and when I look at mental illness that is the same as a physical illness so there should be equality between the timelines and meeting those needs,” Baldwin said.