Finding psychiatric care is a challenge for millions of Canadians in under-served regions. A Globe and Mail analysis highlights where the strain is greatest, and why an aging work force and low pay are making the problem worse.
In London, Ont., a 20-year-old man waits a year to see a psychiatrist after he is hospitalized for suicidal behaviour.
In Prince Edward Island, even the most serious patients on the provincial triage list are told in November they will wait at least six months to see a psychiatrist.
When the only staff psychiatrist at Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora, Ont. decides to move, the community is left begging for help from Thunder Bay, 500 kilometres away, where psychiatrists there already scramble to cover an area roughly the size of France.
Across the country, Canadians tell similar stories of too few psychiatrists in places with too many patients in the queue. The results of the critical shortage: jam-packed emergency departments, long wait lists, stressed-out families, and burned-out doctors.
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“We have a long and cherished history that allows health professionals to do more or less what they want, in terms of who they see and the interventions they provide,” says psychiatrist Philip Klassen, the vice-president of medical services at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby, Ont. This can’t continue, he suggests. “At first blush, you can say we lack resources. But I think the first order of business is to ask, what are we doing with our resources?”
Illustration (top) by Domenic Macri for The Globe and Mail