Concerns province is playing catch-up with getting people mental health support

The Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux (MSSS) is holding an awareness campaign with the goal of encouraging those with symptoms of a possible anxiety disorder, and their loved ones, to get information and seek help. (Photo: Shutterstock)

There are concerns that Manitoba is having to play catch-up with getting people in to see a clinical psychologist in their moment of need.

Sandra Troup, who lives with generalized anxiety disorder, said she uses breathing techniques to help manage her anxiety.

Looking back, she said she has had anxiety for as long as she can remember. But it wasn't until she was in her 30s that the panic attacks started happening more often.

"I was thinking that the world was dying, I was dying. My heart would suddenly start racing," said Troup.

She said it got to the point where she knew she needed professional help.

"Because now this is interrupting my life. This is happening at work now, it's happening at home."

She has since given up getting in to see a psychologist, an all too common story according to Dr. Jo Ann Unger, who is a clinical psychologist.

"I have a small private practice and I say no every day," said Unger. "I get a call every day, someone looking for services and I direct them elsewhere and that's just private."

Unger, who is also the president of the Manitoba Psychological Association, said Manitoba doesn't have enough clinical psychologists.

She said there are currently 210 psychologists, or 20 per 100,000 people, "which is the lowest per capita rate in the country."

The national average is 51 psychologists per 100,000 people.

Unger said two recent healthcare reviews – the Peachy and Virgo reports – identified this as a target for Manitoba to match.

"What they actually indicated was that the mental health needs in Manitoba have been found to be greater than that across the other provinces, so ideally it would be helpful if it was more."

She said waiting for public and private psychologists is very long, adding many people can't afford it or their benefits only cover a few sessions.

"Really common is for people to have $300-$500 a year and then they can access a private psychologist, but that's nowhere near what would be usually effective."

Troup, who is now a volunteer at Anxiety Disorder Association of Manitoba, said many people who reach out to the non-profit wait one to one-and-a-half years to see a public system psychologist, with Unger adding there are about 70 of those in the province.

"Oh gosh, when you don't even know that you can get through the day, hearing a year without help, it's just too overwhelming," said Troup.

Troup stopped her search for professional help when she found a peer support group for anxiety.

"They already got it. I could just say in two sentences and they would say 'I felt that. I know what that feels like and here's what we can do to help you'."

Troup said every now and then something may trigger her symptoms, but the breathing routine she's learned keeps her grounded.


Cameron Friesen, minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living, said in an emailed statement to CTV News the province is responding to the shortage problem, "in a number of ways including a partnership with Bell Let's Talk and the Strongest Families Institute," said Friesen in a statement.

He added more than $25 million in investments have been announced since the fall, including expanding walk-in mental health services and trauma counselling at Klinic and the Laurel Centre, increasing support for the NorWest Youth Hub and enhancing access to mental health assessments and treatment at HSC Children's Hospital.

He said the government is also undertaking initiatives such as increasing mental health and addictions supports by providing schools with psychiatric nurses and addictions support workers; recruiting, training and employing community helpers who can provide mental health services to families and caregivers; distributing Thrival Kits to more students so they can learn more evidence-based mental health practices and interpersonal skills development; and issuing a request for proposals for a community-based agency to deliver formal peer and family support services in Winnipeg and Dauphin.

"Additionally, our newly released provincial Clinical and Preventive Services Plan includes the integration of psychological services as part of a comprehensive mental health strategy," the statement said.