Navigating Publicly Funded Mental Health Services in Canada

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Posted by Virtue Bajurny, BSW, MSW, RSW Type 1 1994, Pumper '09 on Oct 1, 2018 1:33:31 PM
Virtue Bajurny, BSW, MSW, RSW Type 1 1994, Pumper '09

Navigating MH services in Canada blog postSometimes dealing with a mental health issue feels too big to do on your own or with the help of friends, family, and your usual support network. You might feel that it is time to start exploring community programs and public mental health supports to help you manage, but it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Even at the best of times, navigating mental health services can seem like a daunting task, but it can seem doubly so when you are in the midst of dealing with a mental health difficulty. Publicly funded services are generally piece meal in many places and/or sorely lacking in others; however, despite the current patchwork nature of many mental health systems there are a lot of great publicly funded supports to be found.

Where do you start to find publicly funded mental health supports in your area?

Before you begin your search, it is important to know that many services have waitlists. It can be discouraging when you think you have found the right mental health support or program for you or a loved one, only to find that there is a long waitlist. However, it is always worth putting your name down on a waitlist as you look for other services that might be able to meet your needs sooner; quite often wait times actually move much faster than predicted.

The following is a list of actions that can help you begin to navigate your local mental health supports. They are not presented in any specific order, so begin with whichever option you feel most comfortable:

Talk to your family doctor. If you have a family doctor, this can be a good place to find out about local mental health resources and get referrals. If you don’t have a family doctor, walk-in clinics can also help you find services in your area.

Talk to your diabetes team. Many diabetes teams have access to a social worker that you can consult with about mental health. If they do not provide counselling or therapy, they should be able to provide you with referrals to other mental health supports in your community. Some diabetes teams also have access to a psychologist or psychiatrist that you can meet with to talk about your mental health.

Find an MD who also does therapy. Though they are few and far between, there are some general practitioners or family doctors who provide psychotherapy services that are covered under your provincial government health insurance program. Your doctor may know of physicians that offer this service, but you can also search Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist directory to see if there are MDs in your area that offer counselling.

Contact a service navigator. There are services throughout the various Canadian provinces and territories that can help you navigate your local mental health services. They are usually phone lines or online directories, though some branches of the Canadian Mental Health Association encourage people to visit in-person as well.  Download the definitive list of Canadian Mental Health Resources here.

Go to a community mental health clinic. Some community mental health organizations have walk-in clinics that you can go to for single-session one-on-one counselling. They might also offer support groups or longer-term one-on-one therapy. If you are unfamiliar with the community mental health supports in your area, you can contact one of the mental health navigation services in your province to find out more.

What do I do if I or someone I care about needs mental health supports right now?

Sometimes a crisis arises and you need to connect with mental health supports immediately. A crisis is a time of intense emotional distress and it can be related to a variety of issues. Examples include, but are not limited to, mental health difficulties, relationships with family and friends, addiction issues, financial difficulties, school or work stress, abuse or traumatic experiences, loneliness, and/or illness.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis and cannot connect with the mental health supports needed right away, you may need to turn to one of the emergency support services listed below:

Call a crisis line. If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress and needs someone to talk to right away, a crisis line can provide the support needed to get you through the crisis and they can refer you to local mental health services for follow-up. See our list of crisis supports for Canada

Visit the emergency department. If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate attention because there are safety concerns, please call 911 (or your local emergency number) or visit the emergency department of the hospital closest to you. Emergency room staff typically consult with someone from the psychiatry department who will do an assessment when you arrive to see if you need to be admitted to the hospital. Once the crisis has passed and you are able to leave the hospital, they should refer you to local mental health supports for counselling and therapy.

If you are not experiencing an emergency but would still like help, learn about finding the right mental health practitioner for you at, “What You Need to Know When Looking for a Therapist”.

Download the Definitive Guide to Mental Health Resources in Canada below. 

 Download Guide

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