Manitoba government announces funding to create new psychiatric positions, expand training

The Manitoba government has announced it will be adding more psychiatrists in the province to address lengthy wait times and high demand for mental health services.

“Every Manitoban deserves quality mental health care,” Housing, Addictions and Homelessness Minister Bernadette Smith, minister responsible for mental health, stated in a news release Tuesday.

“These initiatives are helping our relatives heal and maintain good mental health by providing more well-trained psychiatric professionals to serve our communities.”

The plan will see the province provide an additional $2 million in annual operational funding to create nine new psychiatry positions in Winnipeg and Selkirk. It will also expand the University of Manitoba’s five-year residency training program in psychiatry to place more trainees in rural and northern Manitoba.

The province says the program will increase from 12 trainees in 2023 to 15 trainees in 2024 (12 in Winnipeg and three in rural and northern Manitoba), as well as 17 trainees in 2025 (13 in Winnipeg and four in rural and northern Manitoba).

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An additional $600,000 will be going to Shared Health to support a two-year program to recruit psychiatrists to practice in acute care facilities and underserviced areas of the province. The minister said 14 psychiatrists have already been recruited under that new agreement.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2022, more than five million Canadians, or 18 per cent, over the age of 15 met the diagnostic criteria for a mood, anxiety, or substance use disorder. Of that, one in three reported unmet or partially unmet health and mental health care needs.

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Tara Brousseau Snider is the chief executive officer of Sara Riel Inc, an organization that provides support to those struggling with mental health and substance use issues. She says demand for their services has doubled since the pandemic.

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“We have to be doing more, there are just too many people suffering,” Brousseau Snider told Global News. “We’re seeing it with our homeless populations, we’re seeing it with our suicide rates, we’re seeing it with our youth right now.”

Brousseau Snider says there is currently only one psychiatrist in the northern part of the province, meaning many have to travel lengthy distances for care. She also says wait times for psychiatric care are lengthy, many have to wait six to 18 months and in most cases, she says, the waits are closer to the 18-month mark.

“The risks are so immense (during the wait). It’s sad that people have to wait for the clinical,” she said.

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“There is help within the community but many people need that psychiatric care, they need to get on their meds, they need to get that help.”

Marion Cooper, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Mental Health Association Winnipeg, says long wait times often result in severe outcomes.

“It’s really problematic. Usually when someone is actually ready to reach out for help, they’ve already been living with distress and struggling for quite awhile,” Cooper said, adding that often stigma causes people to wait a long time before reaching out for help.

“By the time someone has made that step to ask for help is when they need to get the help. So any wait is challenging.”

Cooper also says lengthy waits usually result in the illness becoming more difficult to treat.

“This is critical,” Cooper added. “We wouldn’t wait for stage four to treat cancer, as soon as we have any concerns about a diagnosis of cancer, we try and make that treatment available. And so in the same way, we can’t wait for people to get so acute or stage four in their mental health struggle to provide and offer services.

“So this is really about trying to have a mental health response as quickly as possible.”

Click to play video: 'State of mental health resources: Manitoba still falling behind'

State of mental health resources: Manitoba still falling behind

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