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Here is some information that will help you write a letter to the candidates in your riding. Feel free to copy it in whole or in part, to use parts and not others or to put the letter in your own words.
Alberta’s success and effectiveness depends on the health of its citizenry and the organizational health of its public and private institutions. An important, but all too often neglected, aspect of health is psychological health. Psychological factors are determinants of disease (e.g., recent links between depression and heart disease), influence the course and management of illness once it exists (e.g., the role of depression and lifestyle in coping with conditions like obesity and diabetes) and can become episodic or chronic conditions themselves (e.g., mood and anxiety disorders). These psychological factors also determine the productivity of Alberta’s workforce. Research shows that 50% of adult mental health problems and disorders start in childhood and 70% before the age of 24. Alberta’s population is aging and facing a number of chronic lifestyle-related conditions. Psychological factors and interventions are as critical to assessing the cognitive capacity of a senior as they are to helping individuals make the behavioural changes necessary to successfully managing their health.
Concerning psychological disorders specifically, we know that
- the World Health Organization predicts that depression will be the second leading cause of disability, adjusted for life years for all ages and both sexes by 2020,
- according to the Public Health Agency of Canada 1 in 5 Canadians will face a psychological disorder in a given year,
- the Mood Disorders Society of Canada reports that mental disorders account for more of the global burden of disease than all cancers combined,
- over 40% of Albertans’ visits to family physicians are due to psychological/mental health problems or disorders,
- up to 40% of disability claims made to large employers are for mental conditions,
- according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, mental disorders cost the Canadian economy tens of billions of dollars annually in terms of lost productivity, and
- it is the minority of persons with psychological disorders who will receive treatment.
It is not a question of whether Alberta has significant and unmet needs when it comes to its psychological health. Further, it is no longer a question of can we afford to better meet the mental health needs of Albertans but how can we afford not to do so.
As the country’s largest group of regulated and specialized mental health care providers, psychologists play an important role in Alberta’s mental health. However, as publicly funded institutions such as hospitals, schools and correctional facilities face funding pressures that impact their salaried professional resources, psychologists increasingly work in private practice – where their services are not accessible to Albertans with low income or to those who have no extended health insurance through employment. The government of Alberta needs to do a better job at providing access to needed psychological services for all Albertans. Further, the significant and unmet service needs when it comes to mental health must be targeted when the 2004 Accord on health and social transfers is considered for renewal in 2014.
Over the past three years the Alberta Government has undertaken an initiative to transform how schools provide service to students with special needs. Alberta School Psychologists were supportive of this initiative and advocated for psychologists to play a key role in providing learning, social, emotional and behavioural supports to all students. However the services of School Psychologists were not identified in the new Inclusive Education funding framework recently announced by the Alberta Government. It is concerning that the government has not recognized the important contributions that these uniquely trained psychologists provide to Alberta students. Access to school psychology services is critical if we intend to meet the needs of the full diversity of our school populations and if we wish to graduate healthy and resilient students.
Access to mental health services and supports is related to the needs of Albertans and the supply of providers. Alberta’s mental health human resources cannot meet the demand let alone the need. There are not enough providers and there are not enough supports for family and peer caregivers. We must invest in graduate training of psychologists and other mental health workers. This will reduce the strain on primary care as well as give Albertans better access to the care they need. We need to invest in mental health human resources so that, as the 2004 Health Accord points out, the right person gets the right service, at the right time, in the right place and from the right providers.
Finally, we would like to underscore the importance of continued attention to investing in research when it comes to Alberta’s mental health. Psychology is a science-based profession and its attention to evidence-based care is a hallmark of practice. It is critical that we support the full range of biopsychosocial inquiry into mental health issues and interventions upon which people’s health and wellness depends.
We urge you, a member or aspiring member of our provincial leadership to affirm your commitment to Alberta’s health and specifically to fund the research, mental health human resources and services upon which Albertans’ wellbeing depends. We further ask that you address the very significant and underfunded needs when it comes to Alberta’s psychological health and wellbeing.