Saskatchewan is hoping to follow in the footsteps of its neighbour to the west in rolling out a $1.2-million mental health initiative in schools this fall.
Minister of Rural and Remote Health Greg Ottenbreit said it was on a trip up north in Saskatchewan that he learned about Alberta bringing mental health workers into schools.
Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth Corey O'Soup had suggested Saskatchewan consider a similar project.
"It sounded very interesting, very effective," Ottenbreit said.
Currently, the onus is on parents and guardians to bring their children to mental health workers at their offices, but Ottenbreit believes having these workers come to schools will make mental health services more accessible.
"Quite likely, they're going to build a relationship with that child over time," he said. "And when the child does comes into crisis, possibly, they've got that relationship and that trust that the child would go to that person, without barriers, for support."
In Alberta, the initiative began in 2006 with five pilot sites, and it has since expanded to 37 projects in 182 schools, with outreach to 74 additional schools.
Ottenbreit said discussions are still going on as to where Saskatchewan would introduce its pilot sites.
In his annual report this week, O'Soup said children wait months — even years — for psychiatric and psychological services.
"Our children and youth are literally dying while waiting for service," O'Soup wrote.
Wait lists for patients who wish to see Saskatoon child psychiatrists are now two years long, and while Ottenbreit agreed that two years was much too long, he said other areas, including Regina, are looking at much shorter wait times in the range of two to three months.
The province is taking the advocate's report seriously, and is spending more money to train mental health professionals and expand mental health training for physicians, alongside the initiative to bring mental health workers to schools, according to Ottenbreit.