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.