Marian Goldstone remembers a time when everything seemed hopeless.
“I didn’t realize how much it was taking over me,” said Brandon, Man. said a resident.
Goldstone was in her late 40s when she began experiencing symptoms of mental illness. For 11 years, Goldstone was unable to work or participate in his family’s daily life.
“I had trouble getting organized,” she says. “I was starting to isolate myself socially. I even had trouble staying clean.
Marian Goldstone works with the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba and helps people like her who are living with mental health issues.
Twenty years ago, she asked for help. Goldstone saw a psychiatrist, who ultimately prescribed medication that helped her get on a healthier path.
“I can honestly say that without this very regular relationship with this psychiatrist, I would not be standing before you today as a functioning person…I might not even be standing before you at all. I didn’t wait very long, maybe a month, maybe six weeks,” she said. “Now there’s just no place for a lot of people to go.”
Goldstone now works for the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba (MDAM) and sees first-hand how Manitobans, especially in rural areas, struggle to get the help they need.
Manitobans who need professional mental health care can face long waits. Depending on the severity of symptoms and the health region, some patients can wait up to two years before consulting a psychologist or psychiatrist through the public system.
This is partly due to lack of staff. In a statement to PKBNEWS, Shared Health said it recently hired 17 new psychologists and six new psychiatrists. But as of September 2023, 22 percent of its psychologist positions are still vacant, as are 21 percent of its psychiatrist positions.
“Waiting lists were long before the pandemic, and they’ve only gotten worse,” said Dr. Karen Dyck, executive director of the Manitoba Psychological Society (MPS).
MPS surveyed its members in 2021 and found that 16% were no longer accepting new patients. More than half said their waitlist was one to six months long, and six percent said more than a year.
According to Dr. Dyck, to fill positions, Manitoba must offer competitive salaries and more training opportunities.
“Looking at things like salaries and workload will be a very important part of recruiting and retaining psychologists in the public system,” she said.
She adds that waiting to treat a mental illness can lead to lifelong complications.
“We certainly want to intervene quickly in a way that prevents the disease from getting worse or continuing to affect them throughout life,” she said. “We know that mental illness costs Manitoba millions of dollars in medical costs. »
While waiting for treatment, some patients seek other sources of help. MDAM executive director Rita Chahal says non-profit organizations are trying to pick up the slack, but are struggling to meet the dire needs.
“When demand is so high, when people are not receiving clinical care [help] they need… they need to rely on the support of their peers,” she said.
Chahal says MDAM’s provincial funding hasn’t increased since 2007. Recently, they’ve had to cut staff hours and turn some people away.
“It breaks our hearts, it really does,” she said. “It breaks the hearts of my team who say, you know, I wish I could help this person. The number of calls we get daily for peer support, people coming to our door and saying, “Thank God I found a place, I didn’t know where to turn.” These are stories we hear every day.
Chahal is happy that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health and alleviated some of the stigma surrounding mental illness. But it also highlighted the scale of the need and how Manitoba is not keeping pace.
“When an individual’s health and well-being are not great, it affects the family. This affects colleagues. It affects the community. And ultimately, you know, a country,” Chahal said.
Wait times are also long for publicly funded drug treatment. Shared Health says urgent cases are prioritized, but the typical wait is one to three months and can be up to six.
Manitoba is also the only province west of the Maritimes without a provincially funded safe consumption site. Sunshine House, a Winnipeg drop-in and resource center, operates the Mobile Overdose Prevention Site (MOPS), but its federal funding is set to expire in October 2023.
Arlene Last-Kolb of Winnipeg lost her son Jessie to fentanyl poisoning in 2014. As an activist with Moms Stop the Harm, she has lobbied for years for the government to recognize overdose deaths as a crisis and adopts an approach that includes harm reduction.
“What happens to people when they wait on a treatment list?” ” she says. “What do they do? Do they all say no? What happens when you go through treatment, come out and relapse? Why is the only option to call someone? ‘one to abstinence? What happens if you want to take a drug? Why aren’t they safe?
Last-Kolb says forcing people into treatment costs them their lives and that while addiction may be more visible in the inner city, overdose deaths occur in all parts of the city and the city. province.
“It can happen to anyone,” she said, “and you’ll never recover from it.”
She wants education about overdoses and drugs to be widely available in workplaces and schools, and drug testing to be easily accessible, so addicts aren’t at risk of dying with every dose.
“I know far too many families who have spent their pension, their superannuation, remortgaged their home and are still paying off debt to care for a deceased child,” she said. “There are too many other mothers like me. This must stop.
Because mental illness and addiction are often so closely linked, advocates say it’s time for an approach that involves all stakeholders. And even though it means more funding, Dr. Dyck says it’s the only way to provide adequate services to those who need them.
“I can understand that, you know, the general public and maybe the government is a little tired of everyone needing more money for things,” she said. “But the reality is that there is some information that actually suggests that investing in psychology services over the long term actually saves money.”
Chahal says organizations need to work together to meet the needs of the community as a whole, and that experts and those with lived experiences should decide how to deliver care. She hopes that the government elected on October 3 will agree.
“I think we’re at a point where we really need to think together and put on a collaborative hat rather than trying to do things in isolation,” she said. “I want them to ask their constituents what they need rather than saying from the top down, ‘This is what we think you need as a community.’ “Ask individuals.”