Awareness key to local mental health services: advocate

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With the rate of suicide in Alberta steadily rising (a 30 per cent jump from 2014 to 2015), access to mental health care is more important than ever. In part two of our series on Alberta mental health, we look at the available services in Airdrie. Part one, Airdrie mom calling for mental health reform following son’s suicide, followed resident Kim Titus’ calls for reform surrounding antidepressants and a shortfall of interconnectivity amongst health care organizations.

In Airdrie, a number of organizations from Airdrie Urgent Care to Community Links provide services such as individual and group mental health therapy, psychiatry and outreach programs. But for Mike Loughman, a former alcoholic and drug addict, getting help wasn’t an easy decision.

“I was trying for years and years to get help, but I didn’t really know how,” he said. “Being an addict, you talk yourself out of it at the last minute.”

Loughman was lucky to receive help from his father’s employer, who paid for counselling. Loughman said that since getting clean, he’s noticed an overcrowding of local health services – something that would have discouraged his initial action.

“There’s just so many people having this issue. When you try to get into certain places, it takes too long. In the meantime, there will be a month before they see you,” he said. “In that time, that (individual) could commit suicide.”

That situation is one too familiar to Titus. After going cold turkey off antidepressant medication, her son Braden was looking to secure an appointment with a psychiatrist. No appointments were available for three weeks, and in the interim, Braden committed suicide.

According to the Alberta office of the chief medical examiner, rates of suicides in the province spiked more than 30 per cent in the first half of 2015.

“That’s alarming. Historically, the rate of suicide in Alberta is high. Now, we’re the second highest province,” said Mara Grunau, executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention. “Anecdotally, we hear stories from communities across our province. Mental health and addictions education may not be as robust as we’d like to see.

“It’s complex, people are complex. There’s not always an easy answer. But we’d like to see more frontline health providers. If you’re in a rural community, you need to know what services are available. That’s where we want more of an education piece.”

According to information provided by Alberta Health Services, local health therapists and addictions counsellors at Airdrie Urgent Care work with individuals to determine the most appropriate care.

The Airdrie Mental Health Clinic employs a range of health professionals, including therapists, a geriatric mental health nurse, addiction counsellors, psychiatrists and outreach clinicians. Approximately 20 staff members work at the clinic, according to manager Darcy Jessen.

“There’s a lot of different resources that support mental health in Airdrie,” Jessen said. “Physicians have mental health therapists in their clinics. There’s a range of mental health support in Airdrie. I think what we do is assess initial need, and if we need anything more, we connect.”

As part of the province’s ongoing mental health review, eight new medical detox beds will be created in Lethbridge and 20 beds will be converted in Red Deer. Airdrie is not set to receive any new detox beds, and those who require additional help outside of counselling and therapy are sent to the 46 detox beds in the Calgary Zone.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re lacking (when it comes to health care),” Mayor Peter Brown said. “I think it’s more of an education. What’s here in the community, how many private organizations are there? I think people need to know they are out there and available.”

Loughman, who used his experiences struggling with addiction and depression to organize a charity run in October 2015, said he would continue to advocate for awareness of the help that is available in the community, from family doctors to organizations like Community Links.

“Everyone I have talked to has family or friends that are going through depression or have suffered through depression or mental illness. It’s pretty rampant. More people have it more than we care to admit or know,” he said. “I think we’ve brought some more attention. But hopefully, it’ll be bigger and better.

“It’s about talking to your kids. It’s nothing to be ashamed about or be embarrassed about. It’s harder to fix a broken head than a broken leg.”

If you or anyone you know is at risk of suicide, contact the 24-hour Distress Centre Crisis Line at 403-266-4357.

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