It has been a long tunnel for all of us, these past two years. Never before has mental health been such a prevalent issue, as the pandemic has had a hard effect on the well-being of Canadians.
On top of this, and quite fortunately, the old stigmas surrounding mental health have been breaking down. This was happening pre-pandemic but more people now recognize the symptoms and are less concerned about coming forward and asking for help. Community outreach has ramped up as well, such as initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day, which has led people to talk more openly about mental illness.
The statistics bear this out. According to a government survey assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of Canadians, one in four Canadians aged 18 and older screened positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder in spring 2021, up from one in five in the fall of 2020.
Stan Preston, Program Manager, Community Geriatric and Misericordia Mental Health Programs at Covenant Health Canada in Edmonton, has been on the front lines of all of this. A new purpose-built emergency department with a specialized mental health unit, slated to open in 2023, is going to make a world of difference for the patients who come there. The new mental health unit will have eight individual patient rooms, including two rooms built with special considerations for patients in a highly agitated state, as well as a fenced outdoor courtyard to create a safe space for patients to get fresh air.
Stan has been on the job since 1978 and is approaching retirement, so he can speak with authority on the topic.
“(The new facility) will be a huge step up from what we have now,” he said. “Currently we don’t have a purpose-built space for mental health patients. Certainly, over the past few years, during pandemic time as well, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of folks with depression and substance use issues. So as you can expect, trying to meet the needs of these individuals in a busy emergency department, a place that is trying to cope with an influx of patients with COVID symptoms, and acute medical issues, has been problematic, because mental health patients are treated side by side.
“In a busy, noisy, emergency room lit 24 hours, it’s not conducive to care for people who are coming in often at their lowest point for many of them in their life. They are feeling depressed, suicidal, coping with addiction issues,” he said. “Then having to cope with the hustle and bustle, the noise in the emergency department, on top of that. So, the cool thing about the new space is it will be purpose-built, quiet, staffed with mental health professionals who will be able to meet their needs 24-7.”
That’s going to be a game-changer. Westland Insurance, through its Amplifying Communities program, has made mental health a priority issue and is making a donation to Covenant Foundation for this new Misericordia Community Hospital emergency department. Part of the donation awards Westland naming rights for one of the new mental health exam rooms. Overall, it’s going to provide vital support for patients in Edmonton and surrounding areas.
Westland launched its Westland Amplifying Communities Initiative earlier this year. The program is designed to support community projects and initiatives across the country. The program focuses on mental health, wellness, equality and inclusion, homelessness, food insecurity, and environmentalism. Westland made $1 million available in 2021 and has been making community support announcements in places across the country where the brokerage has a presence.
Stan said one of the things they found out quickly, even with the temporary six bed area outside of the emergency department they’ve been able to use, is that there’s been a sharp improvement in getting patients to a space where they have immediate contact with a mental health professional. Plus, the average length of stay for patients has been dropping these past few years, so Misericordia has been on the right track.
The Westland Insurance donation is going to help that process along even more.
“People with acute mental health issues won’t have to sit and languish in the emergency department,” he said. “This is why having a purpose-built area for these folks is such a good idea. It makes for more timely assessment and treatment, and we’re able to facilitate a quicker discharge in a lot of cases, helping people get connected to proper resources in the community. It’s just best practice, state-of-the-art treatment for mental health patients.”
Patient comfort and care will always be the priority at the Misericordia.
“We really do appreciate industry contributing and taking an interest in this,” Stan said. “Mental health affects us all. And (Westland’s) contribution will be used to better the lives of those with mental illness.”