Letter: Albertans are struggling

Albertans are struggling. They struggle not only with their finances but with their mental health during the current pandemic. Recently statistics were released informing the public that there were 301 opioid related deaths in the second quarter of 2020, a death toll that is almost double what it was during the same period of 2019.

The Government should be commended for supporting communities and families by funding mental health and addiction services via online, phone, and in-person methods. But, examining that support reveals some shortfalls.

When someone seeks out support, there are often some common pitfalls they encounter. One is access to services. Access can be hindered by geographical location. People may also find it difficult to take time off work to take themselves or their children to appointments. Phone and on-line services may offer a solution.

Access can also be impeded due to the difficulty of navigating the system. As an educator, I have encountered many examples of families trying their best to find support but getting lost in multiple phone calls and a long list of referrals that did not lead anywhere meaningful. Even more frustrating are the many examples of a traumatic situation like a child attempting suicide and the family being referred to the school counsellor for help.

Could there be a way to get best in class mental health and addiction service for Albertans? Trained psychologists and therapists in our schools would help our children. Many psychologists and therapists already frequent schools for appointments with clients but it is not enough.  School divisions often employ psychologists but their role is more for assessments and consultations and they do not participate in the regular treatment of students. It could simply mean that a psychologist is able to have office hours in a school building on a regular part time basis. Better yet, Alberta Health initiatives should place the support where it can have the most impact—in our schools.

Advocating to put a psychologist in a school is not to discredit the excellent care that school counsellors do on a daily basis (that is, if a school is fortunate enough to be able to budget for a counsellor.) School counsellor training is getting better all the time but counsellors have educational duties to perform as well. Direct support from Alberta Health Services which is available at the school is needed.

Resiliency is a term that gets used often. In times of crisis (such as the pandemic and opioid crisis), it is our resiliency, or the ability to recover, that gets us through. Our resilience is developed over time as our brain develops and builds strategies to cope with challenges in our life. Giving our children the building blocks required to have good mental health is essential. To remove stress and hardship is impossible but providing a mental health toolkit to children to prepare them to bounce back from tough times is possible.

We must support the children, so they are equipped, not to come out unscathed, but to move forward in the healthiest way possible.

Wayne Rufiange is a St. Albert resident and is an education leader. He is the Alberta Party shadow cabinet minister for mental health and addictions.

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