March 3, 2014
Alberta's addiction and mental health system is doing a good job of providing resources for those in crisis situations, but is doing poorly in providing counselling, information and screening resources that would help prevent crises from developing. That is a main finding of a report by University of Alberta professor Cam Wild.
While Wild's report is far from alarmist, his findings raise deep concerns.
Number one finding: "Existing services do not provide sufficient care to meet the needs of Alberta adults." Number two: "Services are mainly operated on a reactive, acute-care model that requires Albertans to seek care at physician offices and specialty clinics." And number three: "System resources are heavily invested in providing inpatient, residential and crisis services."
Those findings show a tendency to respond to crises, but a disturbing failure to do enough to prevent crises from occurring. Nearly half of those surveyed who had addictions or are mentally ill said they either didn't get the services they needed or didn't receive enough service.
The cost of providing services to those in crisis is typically much higher than the cost of preventing crises. Governments, however, are too often short-sighted in their funding of service delivery, preferring to fund large institutions that deal with large problems than small community-based services that can prevent problems from arising.
One place to begin improving the system would be to increase the number of psychological counsellors working in the public system. Another step would be to provide practical help to those who need housing, help finding a job, looking after themselves or simply developing better social skills.
The government's embarrassment over the report's findings was evident in its decision to hold on to the report for six months and then release it on a Friday night in hopes that news media would give it minimal attention.
A better response would be to actually address the issues raised in Wild's report and to provide adequate resources to the mentally ill and those with addictions.
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