The Manitoba Government initiates a plan to add more clinical health psychologists for quicker access to mental health services after receiving feedback about extreme wait times.

Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard announced on June 27 that the government plans to add psychologists to the province's clinical health program. Guillemard is also joined the Victoria Hospital Foundation (VHF) and Manitoba Blue Cross (MBC) in announcing a $1.78 million investment by the VHF in two mental health initiatives at the grand opening of the MBC Mental Health Assessment Unit.

"We heard from experts in the field and directly from families in the community that timely access to psychological services saves lives and changes lives for the better," says Guillemard. "Recruitment of these five new, highly skilled health-care professionals is a key first step in better meeting the needs of Manitobans by reducing wait times for diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses."

Clinical health psychologists are trained professionals who use evidence-based therapy (EBT) practices to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and health conditions. Out of the five new psychologists, two will work in child and adolescent services, another two in adult services, and the last one will be with adult forensic services within the justice system.

"These new positions are an important step in improving our ability to provide critical, timely care for Manitobans, both in hospital and through outpatient services," said Dr. Lesley Graff, provincial medical specialty lead, Clinical Health Psychology. "The focus of these initial recruitments in these highly specialized areas of need for children and adults will allow for a timely and appropriate response. Expanding the women’s perinatal mental health services, for example, will ensure women can be seen more quickly for postpartum depression, anxiety in pregnancy, or following a traumatic birth, which can be critical for the long-term health and well-being of new moms and their families."

Out of all of Canada, Manitoba has the least amount of psychologists per unit of population.

"In 2021, the figures were showing that Manitoba had 20 psychologists per 100,000. The national average is actually 52 per 100,000 people and reports that had been commissioned by the government, the VIRGO report and the Peachy report, looked at the health care system and mental health and addiction services. Both of those reports recommended that Manitoba increase the number of psychologists to reach the national average," says Dr. Karen Dyck, practicing clinical psychologist and Executive Director of Manitoba Psychological Society.

The Pathway to Mental Health and Community Wellness: A Roadmap for Manitoba is a five-year plan addressing issues within the mental health industry and providing an outline of how the government can give Manitobans easier access to help and medical attention they need. Adding five new clinical health psychologists aligns with the Manitoba's Clinical and Preventive Services Plan.

However, Dr. Dyck still believes that a long-term plan can aid with the issue of limited psychological services in Manitoba.

"I think it's a long-term strategy that we have to adopt, and I think that's true whether we're talking about recruiting and retaining psychologists in urban areas in Manitoba or rural and northern communities. Part of it is we're not graduating enough clinical psychologists in Manitoba. We have one doctoral program that graduates clinical psychologists and because of the size of the program, we looked at data, I think from 2013 to 2018, and on average they're only able to graduate about five per year."

Dr. Dyck suggests increasing the graduating class capacity to allow for more graduates in a year and looking at how to retain recruits.

Adding five new clinical health psychologists will benefit the province in a new light. offering services in a specialized area of mental health gives people the option for more accurate treatments.

"I think historically the types of treatments that have been more readily available for mental illnesses and mental health issues have been pharmacological. We know a lot of people will go to their family doctors related to concerns about their mental health issues because that seems to have been the most easily accessible treatment. We're seeing a lot of people, perhaps, have good access to pharmacological treatments, but not so much to evidence-based psychological interventions."

Dr. Dyck continues to say that psychological interventions are just as effective, if not more, for certain conditions such as depression and anxiety. She says that people who have psychological interventions are less likely to relapse, and it is more cost-effective in the long term.