Canada, New Brunswick, Thought scoop

Concerns about NB mental health triggered by refugees

New Brunswick’s mental health resources have been under criticism by citizens for the last several years, and the upcoming surge of Syrian refugees is triggering more concerns.

Graeme Dyck, a licensed psychologist in the Moncton area, said the questions about accommodating the refugees invite reflection about the province’s general capacity to provide resources.

“At this time, approximately one third of our provincially licensed psychologists work in public and community mental health,” he said. “That means fewer than 150 psychologists serve the mental health needs of more than 750,000 New Brunswickers.”

Canada has been more open with its mental health initiatives in recent years with campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk, causing it to become a leader in such efforts.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has said that 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness at some point in their life.

According to a 2011 study by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the direct costs of mental illness in Canada amounted to $22,561.40. These costs included community and social services, income support, hospital care, prescription medication, medical care, and other services. Indirect costs amounted to over $6.4 billion.

The study showed that mental illness is costing the Canadian economy at least $48.7 billion in total per year.

Still, Lee Thomas, a former UNB student and mental health consultant, does not believe that there are enough mental health resources available in New Brunswick.

“I’d like to see an increase in [government] investment for resources,” she said. “Basically, without funding services, it’s impossible for more services to develop and function properly.”

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has delayed his plans to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of the year, it is expected that 1,500 that will still arrive in N.B.

Joanne Owour-Larocque, settlement coordinator for the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, said these refugees are vulnerable to many mental health risks for a variety of reasons. This includes pre-migration, migration, and post-migration experiences.

“The arrival of Syrian families increases opportunities to strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration,” she said. “[This includes] welcoming newcomers to our community, the longer-settled community, cultural and linguistic interpreters, health services and professionals, and the settlement sector.”

Owour-Larocque said that these increased sectors will enhance N.B. communities’ existing capacity to provide culturally-appropriate mental and physical health resources, as well as support and intervention systems.

The Multicultural Association of Fredericton is one of three immigrant-serving agencies that has been designated by the province’s Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship’s Resettlement Assistance Program. It will act as a refugee-receiving centre to assist refugees throughout their resettlement process.

Christa Baldwin, executive director of N.B.’s branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said that there are many concerns in the community around the province’s mental health system and the time it may take to get service.

“I know that the Department of Health is working diligently in reviewing the system and looking for more efficiencies,” she said, stressing that different zones have different wait times.

Baldwin also said that there is a lot of pressure on the system, adding that “there are concerns for what that may mean when we add the number of refugees to the mix.”

The provincial government’s preliminary framework document for its plans to accommodate the Syrian refugees does not make note of any expected costs for health care or otherwise. It only states that there has been an acknowledgement for the need to assess mental health resources accordingly.

However, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has designated the Syrian refugees as a public policy group. Therefore, they will be eligible for Type 1 benefits under the Interim Federal Health Program, a program that pays for medical care for a short period of time after arriving in Canada.

These benefits include basic coverage, supplemental coverage, and coverage of prescription drugs for up to a year upon arrival.

Supplemental coverage will provide the refugees with access to psychotherapy or psychological counselling in a private clinic or addiction centre for a maximum of 10 sessions.

Dyck said that, when addressing the mental health needs of refugees, there should be no assumptions made about the challenges they are experiencing.

“There is no singular profile of a Syrian refugee,” he said. “Everyone will have their own experiences, history, personalities, cultural identification, family factors, and capacity for resilience… their own narrative, biological vulnerabilities and co-morbid medical conditions.”

He also stressed that making general claims about refugees’ mental health needs may be easy to do, but suggested that the most important needs are basic ones. This includes safety, security, health care, food and shelter.

“[Psychological needs] are highly impacted by more basic needs and often remit where effective demobilization measures exist,” he said. “Therefore, welcoming refugees, providing basic necessities, engaging them and ensuring basic provisions will be essential on an immediate basis.”

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.


Christmas, Feature, Holidays, News, Remembrance Day, Thought scoop

Christmas fever: where do we draw the line?

Halloween has crept by and poppies are in full bloom for Remembrance Day, but some shoppers in rural New Brunswick are noticing something that does not belong – signs of Christmas.

Megan Fila, a daycare worker in Minto, says that she has already seen signs of Christmas in her hometown.

“From Christmas decorations to Christmas wrapping paper, the stores have them right by the Halloween decorations and costumes,” she said. “I feel that Christmas fever always starts with the months that end in ‘-ber’ – September, October, November, December. Christmas is a huge holiday that everyone loves.”

Christmas fever is something that many holiday-fanatics experience. The emotion is named after its characteristic of an intense or excessive need to get into the holiday spirit ahead of time, whether by decorating or buying presents months in advance, or listening to Christmas music, among other activities.

The debate about how early is too early to decorate and play Christmas music is an unsettling one for many people. This is especially true when “too early” means getting festive before Halloween or Remembrance Day goes by.

Colleen Mooren, a flower shop owner in Chipman, says that she disagrees with decorating before Remembrance Day.

“After a visit to Holland and all the war memorial sites and veterans cemeteries, I think our veterans deserve their [own] day,” she said. “[At my business] I emphasize decorating for the holidays, but I will wait until after November 11.”

Though the debate continues, so does the premature decorating and buying. The Christmas fever that so many people experience is becoming a question of whether it is more than just a few arguably disrespectful decorating choices. Many believe it is driven by consumerism and the commercialization of the holiday season.

Ronna Gauthier, a teacher at Minto Memorial High School, said that consumerism is something she believes creates a lot of anxiety and guilt in people.

“[It creates] anxiety over getting started, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’, it creates the ‘I wants…’ in children and guilt over doing ‘enough’ for your family,” she said.

She agrees with Helen Powers, a resident of both Minto and Fredericton, who said that most people who begin their shopping months in advance do it to get their shopping done early. She says that when she does it, she feels so proud that she’s done, but it gets worse from there.

“You can’t help yourself. It’s this Christmas thingy,” she said. “It keeps you buying right up until Christmas Eve. I’m not sure why – maybe it’s the Christmas spirit – so you end up spending more than you planned to.”

Mynra Brideau, marketing manager for the Regent Mall, said that even though the holidays are their biggest retail season, Santa always arrives the Sunday after Remembrance Day.

“This gives us approximately five weeks of Christmas,” she said. “It takes two to three weeks for our small team to set up our elaborate Christmas décor.  Our décor is set up by our in-house Operations Team. In addition to preparing for Christmas, they have to continue with their daily obligations.”

Brideau said that one important thing to note is that the mall never turns their Christmas music on until after Nov. 11, although she cannot speak for specific stores.

Taylor MacIntyre, a former employee of Kent Building Supplies in Fredericton, said that the holidays were a stressful time to work in retail.

“Most customers don’t realize how much time and effort it takes to pack away all the summer stock and reorganize the shelves to start planning for Christmas,” said MacIntyre. “It takes months of planning, and I know at Kent’s that’s why we bring out Christmas decorations early – it’s such a headache to wait so close to Christmas.”

MacIntyre said that the opinions of customers would vary per person about whether the holiday items should be out months in advance or not.

“Some would come in and be excited to see the Christmas spirit start so early,” she said. “Others would come in and be extremely upset because we were decorating and ornaments were out before Remembrance Day. They often believed it was disrespectful.”

After working in retail for four years, MacIntyre said that she believes Christmas fever is a real emotion that many experience, but admits that even she herself gets it. Though she believes that the commercialization of Christmas pulls people in, she believes it is a means to an end of something greater.

“I believe people go crazy with gifts because it gives them the sense of love, hope and happiness,” she said. “Love, because they are surrounded by family and friends; hope, because everyone has to have a little hope or faith; and happiness, because who isn’t happy when they are getting gifts and having awesome food for Christmas?”

Though she believes that consumerism is a driving factor in it all, Gauthier added that Christmas fever isn’t something that should be condemned out of fear of being disrespectful.

“Anyone who is keen spirited enough to decorate is obviously doing it out of spirit of the season and not out of disrespect for our veterans,” she said. “It’s okay to wear a poppy and a snowman pin on your jacket together. It’s okay to spend November 11 honouring our veterans and putting up your artificial tree.”

Gauthier also said she doesn’t think that anyone who decorates or shops early has any disregard for our veterans.

“On the contrary, I bet they are some of our most grateful and respectful Canadians… thankful for the freedoms earned for us by our military forces.”

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.