A psychotherapist from Richmond Hill, Ont., says when emergency measures were announced in March 2020, many clients asked to reschedule for April – when they assumed they could meet in person again.
Then the weeks turned into months.
For many, friends, loved ones and trusted professionals were visible behind a screen, but slightly out of reach.
Registered psychotherapist and Ontario Association of Mental Health Professionals President Jane Alway says that since then, she and her colleagues have seen an increase in demand from new clients seeking help for mood issues, substance use issues and eating disorders.
“The pandemic itself has certainly exacerbated mental health risk factors,” Alway said.
A quarter of Canadians reported feeling anxious in early January, up 6% since July 2021, according to a Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) survey released earlier this year.
The study suggests that feelings of loneliness and depression also increased, with 24% and 22% of respondents reporting these issues respectively.
Twenty-four percent of survey respondents said they “needed mental health services to deal with the pandemic in the past 12 months but were unable to receive them, compared to 19.5 % last summer “.
Wait times are a challenge for Canadians seeking help
Some studies suggest that wait times were already a challenge before March 2020.
The results of a survey published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) suggest that between 2019 and 2020, “half of Canadians waited up to a month for ongoing counseling services in the community, while one in 10 waited more than four months.”
CIHI is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides data that measures the performance of health care and health systems,
“We have seen a 52% increase over the pandemic in people seeking services,” Laura Monastero, information and decision support manager at Toronto Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Associationsaid about admissions calls during a virtual interview.
WATCH | Wait times for mental health services are increasing:
The Canadian Mental Health Association is a not-for-profit organization that aims to make community mental health support accessible to everyone.
Monastero says people can request ACSM services through a system called The access point.
CMHA Toronto and hundreds of other social agencies are connected to this system, which is designed to help people get the services they need.
She said there were potentially thousands of people on waiting lists for services through The Access Point. The Toronto Observer contacted The Access Point for comment, but did not hear back in time for this article to be published.
Chloe St Onge-Shank, who works as a licensed counselor in the private sector in Quebec (Ordre des conseilleurs d’orientation du Québec, OCCOQ) says she won’t be taking on new clients until August.
“Even in the private stream, you see a huge lag. Like five or six months of waiting,” St Onge-Shank said.
Other Barriers to Accessing Support
“There is a disconnect between the public system and the private system,” Alway said.
“Often you have the [family] doctor thinking, ‘Okay, how can I find someone?’ and they may know, say, the funded agencies, but the funded agencies, they may have a huge waiting list.
Another issue, she said, is affordability.
While some clients may have workers’ compensation insurance coverage for mental health treatment, they may be limited in what their coverage applies to, she said.
In Canada, psychotherapy performed by a licensed psychotherapist is not tax exempt, unless the service is regulated by a particular province.
“A psychotherapist is required to collect the GST/HST on his supplies of services, if he is a GST/HST registrant,” according to a statement from the Canada Revenue Agency.
This does not apply to services rendered by licensed doctors, nurses and social workers, and tax exemptions are available for psychologists and occupational therapists.
According to College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario“Licensed psychotherapists [RPs] do not appear on the list of professionals whose services are exempt from the HST. There may be certain situations in which the services of a PR may be exempt from the HST. »
Alway said the 13% added to the psychotherapy service reduces the number of sessions a patient can cover under their insurance before having to pay out of pocket.
There are also those who have no insurance plan.
Virtual mental health services
Monastero said while essential visits have continued in-person during the pandemic at CMHA Toronto (such as delivering medications or performing wellness checks), support groups have gone online.
She said the multicultural women’s wellness group, for example, had attracted more than 16,000 female participants during the pandemic. The group aims to support newcomers who feel isolated.
Monastero said last year’s evaluations showed that “the groups helped them cope better with their daily challenges and they felt more connected to their communities.”
She said that while such programs are effective, the virtual approach can “deprive a large group that doesn’t have access to the required electronic equipment.”
Read more from the Observer:
ConnexOntario is a provincially funded service that provides information and advice to people seeking mental health and addictions services.
Their system browsers are available 24/7 via phone, text, email or online chat. ConnexGO is also available on the App Store, for first point of contact services.
System navigators are trained to provide information about listening, mental health or counseling services, estimated wait times for services, and even real-time translation services.
For example, if the system navigator finds that a counseling service in the community will take up to 10 days to access, it may be able to provide alternative suggestions such as walk-in services available immediately.
“The number of crisis or support calls [since the start of the pandemic] increased,” said Nerin Kaur, director of data, product, project management and information technology at ConnexOntario.
“During the pandemic, many programs went virtual, or closed, or couldn’t accommodate the capacity they had before COVID, so that was definitely one of the stressors for Ontarians during the pandemic.
The role of federal and provincial governments
The federal government provides financial support to the provinces so that they can provide mental health treatment and support services.
In 2017, the Government of Canada “committed $11 billion over 10 years in targeted funding for provinces and territories to improve access to mental health and addictions services, as well as home and community care.
Specific bilateral agreements between various provinces and the federal government outline how each province will allocate funds over the next few years.
The Ontario government, for example, has announced its “Roadmap to wellbeingin 2020, which was developed with input from service providers and people with lived experience.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the province “also continues to invest in internet-based self-referral cognitive behavior therapy, which more than 106,000 Ontarians have accessed since its launch in May 2020.” .
CAMH Canadian pandemic health survey and substance use series was conducted through an automated search platform Methodify by Delvinia. The survey results released in January 2022 are formed from the responses of 1,004 English-speaking Canadians aged 18 and over to an online survey by the Web Asking Canadians panel, reflecting a variety of ages, genders and regions. .