Tag Archives: Mental Health Commission of Canada

Is This The End of the Mental Health Commission?

By Marvin Ross

In December, I wrote a blog pointing out that the Mental Health Commission of Canada should be disbanded. Those of you who follow my writing on Huffington Post know that this has been a constant theme of mine over the past few years. Last Fall, the Federal Health Minister set up an inquiry into what they called Pan Canadian Health Organizations (PCHOs). These are federally mandated groups established to carry out specific tasks in health across the country when, in fact, health care comes under provincial rather than  federal jurisdiction.

The review was to evaluate the role and relevance of these groups in advancing federal health policy objectives and meeting national goals. One of the PCHOs is the Mental Health Commission and my advocacy colleague Lembi Buchanan and I submitted a brief on the Commission through the Best Medicines Coalition.

With amazing speed for a government report, the findings were just released. Much to our delight, the Commission recommended that the Mental Health Commission either be ended or radically altered.

The basic premise for health care in the 21st Century as outlined by the World Health Organization and endorsed by most countries including Canada is that it be people centred. “It puts people at the centre of the health system and promotes care that is universal, equitable, and integrated. The framework emphasizes a seamless connection to other sectors, notably those focused on the social determinants of health. This framework also promotes providing a continuum of care that requires high-performing primary care.”

The conclusion the reviewers reached about the Mental Health Commission of Canada is that “Mental health is now “out of the shadows”. The integration of mental health care services into the core of Canadian health systems requires a different type of leadership, capable of driving a bottom-up approach in which patients and families, providers, researchers, and the broader mental health community come together to break down silos.”

As a positive, the report states that “The MHCC has been particularly effective in developing strategies around mental health, along with initiatives and campaigns to increase awareness and reduce stigma. It has made great strides in delivering on its objectives and helped to bring mental health “out of the shadows at last.” It has also created valuable contacts and built trust among its closest stakeholders.”

It did develop a mental health strategy mostly ignored and it did help to raise the awareness of mental illness. However, the report states that:

“The need to build greater capacity in Canada on mental health is still as pressing today as it was when the MHCC was established. What has changed, however, partly as a result of the advocacy work undertaken by the Commission, is the overarching policy goal. What Canada needs today is the complete and seamless integration of mental health into the continuum of public health care. What Canadians want is public coverage of proven mental health services and treatments, beyond physicians and hospitals. To be successful, those services must be integrated with primary care and supports for physical health, rather than isolated from them. We came to the conclusion that MHCC, in its present form and with its current orientation, is not the best instrument to achieve the objective of integrating mental health into Medicare.

They then state that these goals might be achievable if the MHCC changed itself but suggest that to accomplish this they would have to engage “health leaders at provincial and territorial levels in joint decision-making over service funding and quality standards; a different “knowledge base” in support of evidence-informed advice and performance evaluation; and a different, more flexible, and less centralized structure.”

This, in fact, is one of the many criticisms I’ve made over the years. The MHCC churns out papers but has zero influence in decision making and that is exactly what is needed. Policy papers are fine but they need to be implemented and the MHCC has yet to accomplish that from what I’ve seen. The report concludes in its section on the MHCC that “It is because mental health is so critically important to Canadians- and their governments- that a new approach is now needed.”

I was impressed with the team tasked with this job and I’m impressed with the speed in which it produced its report (October 2017 to March 2018). Let us hope that the Health Minister implements the recommendations.

And, a documentary we did on schizophrenia

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Time to Scrap the Mental Health Commission of Canada

By Marvin Ross

Psychiatric care in Canada for those who are sickest is virtually non-existent according to a new study just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Looking at Ontario, the research found that the majority of people treated in emergency after a suicide attempt do not see a psychiatrist within six months after discharge. Two thirds of those released from hospital after a stay for a serious mental illness do not see a psychiatrist in the first month post discharge.

None of this is unique to Ontario. In a BC experiment referred to in the link above, researchers tried to book a patient from a family doctor’s practice quickly. Of 230 psychiatrists, only six could see that patient in a timely manner.

For those who read me regularly, none of this is particularly new. I’ve been pointing out the deficiencies of our mental health services for years and criticizing the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) which should be scrapped.

The MHCC arose out of the excellent Senate Committee Report called Out of the Shadows at Last — Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada in 2006. It received federal funding in 2007 to act as “a catalyst for transformative change” with the goal to “improve services and support.”

Today, MHCC’s vision according to its 2017-2022 Strategic Plan is to “raise awareness of the mental health and wellness needs of Canadians and to catalyze collaborative solutions to mental health system challenges”. That is far removed from the original goal to improve services for the mentally ill and their families.

The original research for the Senate Report was based in large part by submissions made by citizens from every region of Canada who were affected by mental illness. Many of them related their difficulties in accessing adequate care and treatment.

In 2015, the MHCC looked at indicators of mental health in Canada and found very few areas that were adequate despite eight years of funding to improve services and supports. Louise Bradley, the CEO of the Commission, was refreshingly honest when she was asked in 2016 if services are more readily available today compared to 10 years ago.

“I would really like to say yes, it is dramatically better but I can’t say that. Access to services is really a big problem.”

I am encouraged by the fact that the Federal Minister of Health appointed two experts to review Pan Canadian health agencies in order to improve their services to Canadians. These are federal organizations that deal in substance abuse, mental health, patient safety and information. The two reviewers requested submissions from the public and since I have been a very vocal critic of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, I submitted a critique with my advocacy colleague, Lembi Buchanan of Victoria, BC.

One very significant reason for the failure of the MHCC is its lack of jurisdiction on health and funding. The original Senate Report stated that the Federal Government cannot effect change in areas like health which are the jurisdiction of the Provinces but they can influence it with grants. They said that “the provinces and territories receive federal grants in exchange for agreeing to respect certain conditions on how they use these transfers. This is how federal legislation such as the Canada Health Act works.” (Sec 16.1.1). Therefore, improvements to mental health care in the provinces could be encouraged by providing the provinces with funds specifically for mental health.

“The creation of the Mental Health Commission is, in the (Senate) Committee’s view, one of the two key components of what could be called a “national strategy” contained in this report. The second involves the creation of a Mental Health Transition Fund. If agreed to by the federal government, this Fund will permit the transfer of federal funds to the provinces and territories for their use in accelerating the transition to a mental health system predominantly based in the communities in which people with mental illness and addiction live. (S16.1.4)”

The MHCC was doomed from the very beginning because of the lack of jurisdiction and funding, The Transition Fund was never approved. Had it been given, it would have made available $519 million/year for 10 years:

When the MHCC was established, it was to develop a mental health strategy. The 2011draft strategy was leaked to the press and universally criticized for “the scant reference to the urgent needs of people with severe mental illnesses including individuals who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”

While the sickest of the sick cannot get timely treatment, the MHCC, we pointed out, has spent money, time and resources trying to destigmatize mental illness. Part of the MHCC’s stigma strategy was to influence how the press writes about mental illness. The Commission spent time and money holding seminars across Canada to convince journalism students to write more positive stories. But, the very nature of journalism is to write about violence.

The futility of this exercise was summed up by Andre Picard who took part in those seminars with students. He said, “We don’t cover normalcy, we’re drawn to the spectacular.”

If these destigmatizing campaigns are successful and more people seek out services, they simply won’t find them.

Another focus of the commission is Mental Health First Aid. Like conventional first aid, the purpose of the program is to offer assistance and relief to someone experiencing a mental health crisis until expert help arrives. Sadly, there is no evidence that the program benefits anyone for whom it is intended.

A very large evaluation of the program at 32 colleges in the United States found that the program helped those who took the course but no one else: “Training was effective in enhancing trainees’ self-perceived knowledge and self-efficacy, but these gains did not result in effects for the target population. The trainees were more likely to seek professional mental health support for themselves, a finding consistent with at least one other recent study.”

Our suggestion is to end the commission and spend the money to provide services and to improve a health care sector that is more reminiscent of a third world country than one in one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Families, Privacy and Hospital Suicides

By Marvin Ross

One of the constant themes in my writing of mental illness is the need to involve the family. And so, when I read a lengthy account of the suicide of a young 20 year old girl that appeared in my local paper, what jumped out at me was that she had requested that her family not be involved with her illness or treatment. She wanted to spare the family grief and, it seems that the doctors went along with her.

The young girl had a number of suicide attempts while in hospital and the family was told none of it. Dr Peter Cook, one of the psychiatrists, told the newspaper that “We were obligated to protect the privacy of Nicole. She was an adult.” The other shrink said that confidentiality between patient and doctor is “sacrosanct.” Nicole did not want to share her medical information with her family.

Sadly, this young lady is not the only suicide in the past little while at this hospital. There have been 9 – 3 in hospital, 2 of patients on leave and 4 outpatients. To its credit, the hospital did commission an external review to see if things could be improved. One of the recommendations was for “closer collaboration with families.”

Now, maybe the outcome would not have been different if the family was involved but we don’t know that. And, the privacy legislation is pretty confining but there are ways to get around them if the medical staff really care. The hospital recently established a family resource centre as the result of a donation from a philanthropist friend of mine. It was difficult to get them to accept the gift but they did and it is being used and it is being well publicized to families.

At the time we were negotiating for a family resource centre at the hospital, I wrote an op ed for the local paper on the need that families have for inclusion with staff when their loved ones are being treated. Aside from pointing out the anger that families have towards being ignored, I mentioned the very sensible guidelines that were produced by the Mental Health Commission of Canada for family caregiver inclusion. And I mentioned this:

“Very few, if any, mental health facilities have adopted these recommendations despite the fact that about 70 per cent of those with serious mental illness live with their families according to the Mood Disorders study. And family caregivers spend 27 hours a week caring for their ill relative according to the EUFAMI survey. That is five hours longer than the average in other countries surveyed by EUFAMI.”

I don’t know if St Joes ever did adopt these recommendations and I do know that the Privacy Act is very restrictive. But, with a little effort, it can be sidestepped as I pointed out in a Huffington Post Blog.

I was basing what I had to say on an excellent paper on the topic that had recently been published by Dr. Richard O’Reilly, a professor of psychiatry, Dr. John Gray, an adjunct professor of psychiatry along with J. Jung, a student in the Faculty of Health Science at Western University.

I said this in my post:

They point out that clinicians often don’t even bother to ask their patients if they have permission to involve family.

If they do and the patient refuses, then they should take the time to explore the reasons for this refusal. Many patients don’t understand why it is important and do agree to allow their families information once it is explained to them. In some cases, there is some information they do not want shared (like sexual activity and/or drug use) and the staff can ensure that this information is not shared. Staff can also inform families of pertinent facts in meetings with the patient present. This often allays patient fears and is similar to the approach recommended in the UK and by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

In those cases where no consent is given, the staff can give general information to the families and receive vital information from the family. The family can tell the doctors about new emerging symptoms, worsening of symptoms and medication side effects, all of which should be crucial information.

Until such time as political jurisdictions reform the privacy legislation, mental health staff can do far more to open the channels of communication with families for the betterment of their patients. It is time they do so.

I was pleasantly surprised that at a meeting with St Joes staff just after this was published, one of them told me that this blog was being read by staff and was being circulated within the hospital.

It seems that not sufficient attention may have been paid to that. I hope that more attention is paid to involving families so that these tragic events can be minimized going forward.