Mental health care severely underfunded in Saskatchewan
author: taylor balfour | news writer
It’s time to defeat the stigma
Mental health and its lack of proper funding is an ongoing issue in our province and country. The stigma surrounding mental health has been so extensively present that recognized days, weeks, and even months have been promoted to get people talking.
Events such as “Mental Wellness Month” in January, “Self Harm Awareness Month” in March, “National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week” swiftly followed by “National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week” back-to-back in May. The list goes on. The amount of days dedicated to spreading awareness and support is overwhelming, but the need to do so is extremely important.
The biases and discrimination against mental health and well being are far too present in the country, and for Saskatchewan, the problem is only getting worse.
Todd Rennebohm is one of the handful of protesters who remained outside of the legislative building to bring awareness to the lack of funding mental health receives in the province. On the morning of Oct. 14, they spoke out, and for good reason.
“We’re trying to fight for more funds for mental health from our provincial government,” Rennebohm explained. “Right now, Saskatchewan is last place in the country for funds allotted to mental health.”
For Rennebohm, his quest for better gained traction as of Oct. 3 of this year when he submitted a letter to the Leader-Post detailing exactly why cutting back on RQHR employees in the mental health ward was “20 steps backwards.” The letters detail Rennebohm’s own experiences with mental health, and the urgency at which the province needs to provide adequate care.
“I was lucky enough that an emergency room nurse could see how serious my condition was, and insisted a psychiatrist see me, instead of the psych nurse on duty,” he explains in his letter. “We talked a bit, then he told me he believed I’m suicidal, depressed, and needed help. But, because they have so few beds and so few staff, he wouldn’t admit me.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.”
Worst of all, it’s reported that “49 per cent of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor.”
Given Rennebohm’s experience, it’s more than clear as to why many are fearful. However, since the letter’s publication, Rennebohm’s has been discovering more in regard to this issue.
“Since I wrote this letter, I found that out that Canada is actually near the bottom of developed countries funding for mental health.” Which, according to the Globe and Mail, is completely factual.
They claim that mental health funding levels in Canada “rank near the bottom among a list of OECD countries.” OECD stands for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD has 15 other countries as members, which include Australia, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States, amongst others.
Worse yet, according to Steve Lurie, who is the executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association’s Toronto branch, said to the Globe and Mail that research has found that the commonality of mental health issues “is 1.5 times that of cancer and heart disease.” Yet, still, not only does it remain dangerously underfunded, but workers are also continuing to be cut.
Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region announced in September that they were to cut 20 full-time workers from the mental health unit. The Leader-Post even reported that “mental health funding accounts for five per cent of the provincial health budget, which Health Minister Jim Reiter acknowledged is below the national average of seven per cent.”
Why does the mental health issue remain dangerous, however?
“It’s a life or death situation,” Rennebohm explains. “I know in our school in Indian Head over the past couple of years we’ve lost a few students to suicide, and now there’s been three up in north Saskatchewan. The more awareness there is the more likely you are to know what to do with yourself if you are in that state.”
Not knowing how to help oneself can only allow an issue to grow more severe. This is clearly seen from information released by the Canadian Mental Health Association, which claims that suicide has been reported as “one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.”
So what would gaining more funds do? For one, it may be able to keep workers in the mental health unit. This way, people in need would be able to remain in the hospital opposed of having to go through Rennebohm’s experience of being told by a psychiatrist that “he figured other people might need the bed even more than I did. Then he made me promise that I wouldn’t hurt myself — and left,” as Rennebohm details in his letter.
Providing better care for those in need could allow more people to be able to “recover fully and be amazingly productive in our society,” as Barbara Holzapfel, one of the protesters and a sufferer of mental health issues told the Leader-Post.
“People seem so complacent and so uneducated about mental health. It’s completely underfunded. You should be mad about that,” Rennebohm says, explaining how students can help spread awareness and support for the cause. “Let your MLAs know, write your own letters. Spread awareness and talk about your own situations. If you’ve been to the hospital, talk about what it was like in there so other people aren’t so scared to go. Any of that.”
Mental health is scarcely underfunded, both federally and provincially, which can and has lead to dangerous results. Simply put, the best way to solve the issue is to bring a light to it.
“It helps get rid of the stigma if people talk about it. I’m finding since I wrote that letter that more and more people are writing letters and are expressing what they went through when they were having troubles with mental health or were going through the system.”
For now, talking about it is the greatest tool in finding a solution. As Rennebohm stated himself, “Awareness is very important because it’s a life or death situation.”