Most Canadians face long wait times in order to see medical specialists (this may be true in other countries as well). Psychiatry is no different. Sometimes, individuals in need of mental health support have to wait for months before they can see a psychiatrist (I am aware of this because I work at a mental health hospital). Most individuals cannot afford other mental health services, including seeking help from psychologists or other therapists, which are not covered by the government. Imagine a very anxious and depressed individual, who is “lost” and has no where to go while they wait for months to see their psychiatrist. Who can they rely on to get relief in a timely manner? Family doctors.
Family doctors are first point of contact for any individuals seeking help for their health-related problems. Therefore, it is important that family doctors are adequately trained to provide semi-specialized care to patients with mental health problems. Additionally, they need to be up-to-date about all the community mental health services, including not-for-profit organizations, that patients can use to manage their symptoms while they wait to see their psychiatrist. Proper education and training in mental health would allow family doctors to provide invaluable care to patients before and after seeing a psychiatrist. After initial visit to a psychiatrist, patients may have to wait again for months for follow-up. Once again, they could rely on family doctors to provide continued support before, during, and after seeking help from psychiatrists.
Medical school curriculums may need to be modified to ensure that medical students, as well as family medicine residents, are well-trained to identify mental health problems and provide semi-specialized care to patients with such conditions. Secondly, the local government need to be mindful of the needs of its population. For example, cuts to the fees of urine tests may be unfavourable for family physicians who wish to provide continued treatment (i.e., methadone) to patients with opioid addictions. It could also be unfavourable to patients as they may not be able to get regular follow-ups required to closely monitor their health status. Such cuts could be devastating in provinces like Ontario where there is a very high rate of opioid addictions.
The medical community and the lawmakers need to be vigilant about the needs of the citizens and the shortcomings of the healthcare system. An integrated primary care guards against increasing mental health burden to individuals with mental health problems.
Fig 1. A mental health poster that I had designed as part of a project in university.
Featured image from Google Images.