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Quebec boosts mental health funding for youth, opposition calls for more help amid COVID-19 crisis

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WATCH: Quebec announced it is investing $25 million in mental health initiatives for young adults, teenagers and children as the province grapples with the pandemic's second wave. But as Raquel Fletcher reports, opposition parties say more needs to be done to help people – Oct 28, 2020

Quebec is investing $25 million in mental health initiatives for young adults, teenagers and children as the novel coronavirus pandemic drags on, but opposition parties say more needs to be done to help people.

Lionel Carmant, the province’s junior health minister, called the plan unveiled Wednesday a “targeted first step” to help Quebecers under the age of 25 and their families  but also said there is no mental health crisis in Quebec.

“We’re not in a crisis right now actually the waitlist is decreasing,” Carmant said. “But we have to prepare that this problem will stay on past the pandemic.”

The additional funding will go towards 250 full-time resources to help those in need, according to the government. Health and social services organizations will be able to boost staff’s hours or put the money toward new resources.

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The announcement comes as the second wave of the pandemic remains in full force, with active shutdowns underway in red zone areas such as Montreal and Quebec City until at least Nov. 23 to stem the tide of COVID-19.

READ MORE: Canadians are feeling pandemic fatigue. Experts say ‘greater good’ message isn’t enough

Amid the tightened restrictions, Premier François Legault has urged anyone who feels unwell to seek help. He has repeatedly acknowledged the pandemic has been difficult on Quebecers’ morale and mental health, and he encouraged people to check in on those who live alone.

Last week, Montreal public health authorities said the ongoing health crisis has been particularly hard on young adults. There has been a decrease in motivation and a rise in mental health issues among a group that has been vulnerable to pandemic-related layoffs, according to the department’s director.

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The research from public health has also found that 46 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 in Montreal have reported symptoms of generalized anxiety or depression.

Carmant said Wednesday that the government is willing to invest more money in mental health programs and initiatives if there is a demand for it.

Yet opposition parties say more needs to be done to help Quebecers weather the pandemic storm.

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Click to play video 'Study shows Canadians’ mental health not improving during pandemic' Study shows Canadians’ mental health not improving during pandemic
Study shows Canadians’ mental health not improving during pandemic – Oct 20, 2020

The Quebec Liberals are calling for a publicly-funded psychotherapy program. Liberal MNA André Fortin said seniors are feeling alone, young people are disproportionately affected and business owners are facing the possibility of losing their business as the health crisis continues.

“We’re asking more and more of Quebecers every day,” he said. “And it’s weighing more and more on them.”

Parti Québécois MNA Joël Arseneau said the government needs to be more proactive in providing direct mental health help to those struggling. He argues this goes beyond recommending citizens call the province’s 811 hotline when they feel unwell.

“I think we need more than money,” he said. “We need resources, we need people, we need psychologists. We need people mobilized for the cause, and we need action on the ground.

“We need people to go where the vulnerable people are, whether it would be in the education system or in the health system or in the businesses.”

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Quebecers in distress, survey finds

The province’s Order of Psychologists also released the findings of a survey it conducted earlier this month, which reported psychologists are seeing an increase in distress among Quebecers who consulted them.

Christine Grou, the order’s president, said that Quebec was experiencing an unprecedented crisis. The psychological impacts of the pandemic are major — especially when it comes to vulnerable people, she added.

The survey found that 86 per cent of respondents, who work in both private practices and the public system, noted an increase in distress among patients.

READ MORE: Quebecers asked to take care of mental health amid tough coronavirus restrictions

Psychologists also reported a jump in urgent requests and an increase in problems with concentration, memory and attention.

More than 50 per cent of psychologists are ready to contribute to an emergency program to make their services more readily accessible, the survey found.

The order’s survey garnered responses from 2,744 psychologists from Oct. 19 to 21.

— With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher and the Canadian Press