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    October 2016

    Crisis intervention services in Saskatoon 'overloaded'

    Supports for people dealing with mental health or addictions issues in Saskatoon appear to be overloaded, which may be stopping people from getting help before it’s too late.

    Tracy Muggli, co-director of mental health and addictions services for the Saskatoon Health Region, said adult beds at the Dubé Centre, which supplies short-term mental health and addiction services for the region, is operating at or near capacity “almost always.”

    “There’s no doubt that over the last several years we’ve seen an increase in demand for mental health services, acute and outpatient, right across the board, and addictions,” Muggli said.

    “There are times when we struggle to make sure … that we can facilitate everyone who needs admission, but we certainly have a number of mechanisms in place to make sure we can accommodate everyone.”

    The strain on the Dubé Centre comes at a time when emergency responders are receiving more calls about people in crisis.


    In Saskatoon, police calls for attempted suicides have increased consistently year-over-year going back to 2014, according to police data.

    City police received 228 attempted suicide calls this year between Jan. 1 and July 31. That’s an increase of 24 per cent compared to the same time frame in 2015, when they responded to 183 calls, and an increase of 50.9 per cent compared to the same time period in 2014, when they received 151 such calls.

    However, while the number of calls to police for attempted suicides is on the rise, the city’s suicide rate per 100,000 people appears to have flatlined.

    According to information provided by the Ministry of Health, suicide rates per 100,000 people have remained relatively stable in Saskatoon, ranging from 9.3 to 11.2 suicides annually between 2004 and 2014.

    Preliminary data from the Office of the Chief Coroner indicates 30 people committed suicide in the city in 2015, compared to a high of 35 recorded in 2010, according to data going back to 2005.

    Provincewide, the number of suicides per 100,000 people has ranged between 10.2 to 14.1 during the same time period.

    In Saskatoon, the five-year trend indicates a seven per cent drop in Saskatoon’s suicide rate per 100,000 people. It indicates the average suicide rate per 100,000 people between 2005 and 2009 was 10.5, and the rate fell to 9.7 per 100,000 between 2010 to 2014.

    The health region is working to link people in crisis with community-based services to get them the supports they need without showing up at a hospital.

    Muggli said while there are times when people seeking help have had to wait because the Dubé Centre has more people than beds, they’ll never be turned away. A patient may have to wait in an emergency department, but with people getting discharged from the centre on a regular basis, the length of the wait varies depending on patient flow.

    The health region hopes community-based services enable people to get help early and stay out of hospital.

    “We believe prevention is far better than requiring hospitalization,” Muggli said.

    She noted while the Dubé Centre’s 54 adult beds are usually full, there’s consistently space for young people seeking detox or addictions services. Muggli said there’s no wait list for youth seeking help, which is offered through the Calder Centre.

    Darrell B. Lechman, the SCYAP Executive Director stands in the main gallery at SCYAP on 3rd Avenue in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on Saturday, August 12th, 2016.

    Darrell B. Lechman, the SCYAP Executive Director stands in the main gallery at SCYAP on 3rd Avenue in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on Saturday, August 12th, 2016. KAYLE NEIS/ SASKATOON STARPHOENI

    Getting access to crisis services is “very difficult” for some, according to Darrell B. Lechman, executive director of Saskatoon Community Youth Arts Programming (SCYAP)

    “It’s awful. It’s been this way for years and I think it’s getting worse,” he said.

    Lechman said people who can afford counselling get help faster, while people who need to access publicly-funded supports may find themselves at the back of a long line.

    Rita Field, executive director of the Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service, said any delay may prevent a person in crisis from getting the help they need.

    “People who are already tired and overwhelmed and maybe feeling disconnected, when they have to wait it kind of puts a damper on their motivation,” she said. “It takes energy to wait and hold on.”

    About 28 per cent of the roughly 25,000 calls the crisis service receives annually are classified as mental health or addictions related. The number of calls in this category increased by 13 per cent in the period from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016 compared to the same period a year earlier.

    “The whole medical system is overloaded and this is part of it,” Field said.

    Kathy Willerth, director of mental health and addictions for the Ministry of Health, said the ministry has been kept informed about the capacity issues at the Dubé Centre and is working with the health region to ensure people get care in a timely fashion.

    She noted the increased volume may be the result of work being done in Saskatoon and across Canada on mental health, addictions and available supports for those in need.

    “As we increase awareness and reduce stigma, then we do see an increased volume of demand,” she said, noting the ministry wants the public to know “help is only a call away.”

    She pointed to the province’s mental health and addiction action plan, which was introduced in 2014 and aims to “transform the system” through enhanced capacity, community-based recovery and a focus on prevention and early intervention. 

    The action plan also hopes to reduce stigma around mental health and addictions, while responding to Saskatchewan’s diverse community and partnering with First Nation and Métis people.

    Alongside the action plan, Willerth noted the creation of Police and Crisis Teams (PACT) has helped ensure people in need are connected with the proper supports.

    “Promising results” in Saskatoon led to the duplication of the program in Regina, Willerth said.

    Muggli said her staff and the health region are working to make wait times as short as possible, and the aim is to provide people in crisis with the right services at the right time. She said this is why the health region has been putting such a strong focus on community-based supports.

    “The best way to help people who struggle with mental health is to support them as early as possible in their illness,” she said.


    August 30th, 2016



    • Posted By: Morgan Modjeski - Saskatoon Star Phoenix
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    • Comments: 0
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