Accessing Mental Health Services in Salmon Arm
by Nan Dickie
This is the second of nine weekly articles on understanding clinical depression and bi-polar disorder. Nan Dickie is an author, speaker, and the facilitator of a peer-led depression support group in Salmon Arm.
[Important: If you or someone you love is in urgent need of help for symptoms of clinical depression or mania, call the Crisis Line (1 888 353-2273). It operates 24/7 with trained personnel. It provides short-term, present-focussed support, crisis intervention and referral.]
A young man, Colin (a pseudonym, of course), came to our depression support group last week for the first time. He said he was severely clinically depressed, but assured me he was not suicidal. Clinical depression and bi-polar disorder are illnesses that can be treated; a person does heal from episodes, but there is no cure (yet) for these illnesses. Situational depression occurs when a difficult life situation (e.g., loss of a job or partner, grief or the onset of a serious illness) causes one to feel sad or despondent.
After our checkin, I asked Colin if he had a counsellor (therapist) or psychiatrist. “No,” he responded. “A family doctor?” I asked. “No,” again.
It is very unfortunate and sad when a person who is experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder doesn’t have a family doctor. In this situation, getting the help needed can take a long time. I could offer Colin two options in the public health system. He could go to a walk-in clinic, or contact the Interior Mental Health (IMH) office in Salmon Arm (250 833-4102). Of course, there are many other counsellors and therapists in Salmon Arm who are not covered by MSP and whom anyone needing therapy can consult.
There are three walk-in clinics in Salmon Arm, where a person can go if he or she does not have a family doctor. These after-hour clinics are located at the Salmon Arm Medical Clinic, at Mount Ida Clinic, and at Shuswap Providence Clinic. There, Colin would meet with a family doctor who would assess his need for medical, psychological or psychiatric help. If Colin requires hospitalization (for instance, if he were suicidal, which he wasn’t), the doctor would send him to a hospital – Vernon is the closest one with a mental health program (often referred to as “psych ward”). If psychiatric care is necessary but not urgent, the doctor would refer Colin to a psychiatrist. With few psychiatric resources in our community, it would be a month or more before Colin would be able to see one. This is a very long time to wait when one is feeling desperate.
If the doctor decides that Colin requires counselling, Colin would be referred to the IMH office for assessment and treatment. (Colin could refer himself to IMH, but if medication needs to be part of his regimen, he would need to consult a doctor. Therapists cannot prescribe medication.)
After seeing a mental health intake worker at IMH, Colin would be assigned to one of its teams, most likely the Adult Short Term Assessment and Treatment (ASTAT) which provides short-term intervention for adults experiencing acute mental health problems. Other teams serve clients with different mental issues.
One of the IMH team’s workers will make an appointment with Colin for when that worker is available. Again, this may require a long wait. It is important to know that psychiatric and therapeutic services are not plentiful (certainly not ample) in Salmon Arm. This is, of course, a political and provincial matter.
So, finally Colin will be able to get the psychiatric help he requires after a much-too-lengthy process. However, Colin could have received quicker treatment. Had he addressed his need for help for his depressive disorder sooner, help would be closer at hand. Had he found a family doctor when he first moved to Salmon Arm, stated his diagnosis of clinical depression, his family doctor could have referred him to appropriate mental health services at that point. It is wise for a person who lives with recurring episodes of depression or mania to seek a therapeutic or psychiatric relationship well before symptoms arise.
Why do so many individuals who have clinical depression or bi-polar disorder not establish these important relationships sooner? There are several reasons – actually, excuses. The person may think, while he is in remission, “I’m not going to get depressed again;” (this is unlikely). Or, “I can get through this on my own;” (doubtful). Or, “I’ll wait until I really need it;” (unwise). Or, “Nothing and no-one can help me;” (untrue). There is every good reason to be pro-active. Do yourself or your loved one a favour – act now!
Next week: You should know: What depression and mania feel like.
Depression support group meetings: First and third Mondays at Askews Uptown conference room at 1 pm. Everyone welcome.