CIHI study examines waiting time for mental health services across Canada

Canadians are reporting worsening mental health during the pandemic, but many are waiting months before receiving counselling.

According to a new study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), in 2019-20, half of Canadians waited for up to a month for counselling services in their communities. For one in 10, that wait is more like four months.

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According to CIHI, the data was collected as part of new public reporting by provinces and territories in an effort to improve access to services.

Read more: Manitoba doctors fear PTSD epidemic after COVID-19 survivors leave ICU

Tracy Johnson, CIHI’s director of health systems analytics, told 680 CJOB that although the data was collected pre-pandemic, it can be a valuable resource going forward, in a time when there continues to be a higher demand on mental health services.

“Mental health is crucial, and during a pandemic, we’ve heard that it is worsening,” said Johnson.

“Prior to the pandemic, we knew that about 20 to 25 per cent of people identified as having mental health challenges. Only about half of those say they were able to get the required help that they needed.

“This data is the first look at if Canadians are waiting for ongoing mental health counselling, how long are they waiting.”

Johnson said that one of the side effects of pandemic restrictions is that many Canadians have been accessing mental health supports virtually, but it remains to be seen how effective that care will be in the long run.

“On the one hand, people may have been able to access more care than they could a year ago, but what we don’t know about that care is how much there was and whether the quality of it was appropriate for people.

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“We have very little community data in this country, so this is a good start.”

Johnson said that although Manitoba is one of the provinces participating in the project, the data specific to the province wasn’t available at the time of the report’s release.

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