Tough times call for free access to mental health – Alberta NDP
From the Alberta NDP
NDP CALLS FOR ALBERTANS TO HAVE ACCESS TO FIVE PROVINCIALLY FUNDED MENTAL HEALTH SESSIONS
Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition is calling on the provincial government to help all Albertans get through the incredibly difficult COVID-19 pandemic by making five mental health therapy sessions available through the provincial insurance plan, with an online assessment tool to help connect them with a mental health professional.
“Albertans have endured incredible stress throughout this year, from job losses to social isolation to the loss of loved ones,” said Rachel Notley, Leader of Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition. “Heading into the holidays, I know how painful it is that we won’t be able to gather with our friends and extended family. For many, the holidays are always tough, and this year will be especially hard.
“Many Albertans need someone to talk to and help them process everything they’ve been through in a healthy way.
The Opposition is calling on the provincial government to launch a simple online tool to help Albertans assess their mental health needs and then connect them to five provincially insured sessions with a registered healthcare provider. Using the provincial health care plan means no out-of-pocket costs for anyone with a provincial health number. While the cost of the recommendation will depend on Albertans’ uptake of the program, the Opposition recommends the government make a commitment to fund up to $100 million worth of mental health support.
Dr. Keith Dobson is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Calgary, as well as a senior consultant for the Opening Minds program of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. He has been at the University of Calgary since 1989 in a variety of roles, including Head of Psychology and a member of the Board of Governors. He is a recognized expert in the field of mental health and the development and delivery of psychological treatment programs.
“Mental health needs were largely unmet before the pandemic and have grown considerably since,” Dr. Dobson said. “Estimates are that rates of anxiety and depression have at least doubled since early 2020, and that rates of alcohol use and domestic violence have also increased. We have evidence-based psychological and counseling services that have been, and can be, delivered using technology. The College of Alberta Psychologists has well developed standards for the provision of this service, and there is an available pool of trained and qualified service providers. This initiative is timely and needs serious consideration by the government.”
Dr. Judi Malone, CEO of the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta, said all Albertans, regardless of income, should have access to psychological services.
“The psychological health and wellness of Albertans can be substantively improved by enhancing access to appropriate mental health treatment,” Malone said. “Community and family supports are invaluable but when psychotherapy is warranted it needs to be provided by qualified professionals. Cost is a barrier to access as there are few publicly funded psychological services.
“COVID-19 has impacted the psychological health of Albertans who were already reeling from our economic downturn,” Malone added. “We can avoid a psychological pandemic by investing in the psychological health and wellness of Albertans. Access to necessary psychological support was difficult before – and that need for the services of registered psychologists continues to grow. Without policies, programs, and services in place we cannot meet this impending demand.”
A recent study from Morneau-Shepell, a human resources firm, said Albertans reported the highest increase in stress levels of all Canadians in November. Albertans have reported some of the worst mental health in Canada throughout 2020, and currently have the third-worst, ahead of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Yesterday, on Human Rights Day, the Alberta Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, renewed its call for Albertans to have access to mental health care services in accordance with the five principles of Medicare: universal, comprehensive, accessible, portable and publicly administered. The expansion of services recommended by the Opposition would be an important step towards that goal in Alberta.
“The pandemic has made our lives much more difficult, and it’s also driven home how important it is to be proactive about our own health,” said Heather Sweet, Opposition Critic for Mental Health and Addiction. “This is an opportunity for the province to give Albertans the tools to do that. Over the past months, we have all gotten used to using an online tool to screen ourselves for the COVID-19 virus, and to be connected to testing services and health advice.
“Albertans should be able to assess their mental health at home, and have confidence that they will be connected to the help they need.”
Drying conditions return in Alberta, crews see more intense fire activity
A burnt metal sign hangs from a tree, damaged by recent wildfires, in Drayton Valley Alta., on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. As more wildfire evacuees are being allowed to return home in Alberta, provincial officials warn that warm, dry conditions are returning this weekend in some areas.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
As more wildfire evacuees are being allowed to return home in Alberta, provincial officials warn that warm, dry conditions are returning this weekend in some areas.
Melissa Story with Alberta Wildfire says the elevated fire conditions were anticipated and that crews on the ground are seeing more intense fire activity on the perimeters of wildfires.
But she says most fires haven’t grown substantially and she doesn’t believe any have jumped their containment lines.
The number of evacuees as of Saturday afternoon stood at 5,257, down from over 7,200 on Wednesday, following cooler and wetter conditions in the last week.
Nearly 50 wildfires in Alberta’s forest protection area are burning, with 14 of those listed as out-of-control.
Cyndee Evans, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, says the situation remains serious despite recent positive news.
“While we can take heart that more Albertans are starting to return home, we cannot afford to drop our guard. Now is not the time for complacency. Please continue to do your part and help prevent the spread of wildfires and further damage from occurring,” Evans told a news conference Saturday.
Story noted that showers were forecast for some parts of Alberta later Saturday, reducing fire danger, but also cautioned they bring the risk of lightning.
Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said in a tweet Saturday that an extension for the deployment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel to assist in firefighting efforts has been approved.
Story said firefighters from New Zealand were welcomed to the province Friday and that nearly 200 firefighters and support staff from Australia would be arriving this weekend.
Alberta remains under a provincewide state of emergency, although some bans on fires, ATVs and off-highway vehicles have been relaxed in recent days.
Parkland County west of Edmonton lifted a state of local emergency on Friday that had been in place since April 29, and downgraded a fire ban to a fire restriction. It said that meant “safe fires in approved fire pits with a screen are allowed and do not require a permit.”
Fires without screens still required permits, however, and open fires in the county are still banned.
The High Level Forest Area wildfire update noted the Pasqua fire located in the community of Fox Lake saw an increase in fire activity after warm and dry weather on Friday, and that temperatures and fire behaviour was expected to pick up on Saturday.
Fox Lake remains evacuated, but residents are being permitted to sign up for tours of the community on Monday to view damage. A statement from the Little Red River Cree Nation said priority will be given to people who have lost their homes.
“Tours will be visual only, as it is still not safe for members to walk around the community or house sites due to hot spots as well as possible toxins and hazards in the areas that have been burned,” said a statement posted online by the First Nation on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2023.
UCP leader Smith says she is ‘delighted’ by endorsements from Harper, Poilievre
United Conservative Party leader Danielle Smith, centre, makes an election campaign announcement in Calgary, Alta., Friday, May 26, 2023. Albertans go to the polls on May 29. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
United Conservative leader Danielle Smith says she would aim to lower the level of political polarization in Alberta if her party wins what has been a tight and often bitter election race.
She made her remarks during her last news conference before Albertans go to the polls on Monday.
Smith says she would consult broadly and make decisions based on what she’s heard.
She adds her door is always open to people from all backgrounds and all political persuasions, and she would learn by exchanging ideas.
The UCP leader also says she was delighted to garner endorsements from former prime minister Stephen Harper and federal Conservative Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre.
The rival New Democrats have been endorsed by high-profile former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2023.
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