Second year nursing students from the University of Saskatchewan presented their research surrounding social justice and advocacy in mental health services to City Council on Monday.
The presentation highlighted important topics such as stigmas and barriers in the healthcare system towards individuals struggling with mental illness, advocacy for clients, and improved education. The presenters said these issues must be addressed when discussing the implementation of mental health services.
“There’s overwhelming statistics to show that when people don’t have the bare necessities of living, there’s always going to be a mental health imbalance,” said student Jan Thomas. “We found that education was the biggest thing that we could do for everybody else in the community to impact that in a positive regard.”
Thomas said her research found that social determinants impact how often and the likelihood of someone seeking mental health services throughout their life.
“Things like food scarcity, homelessness, inaccess to other healthcare services and systematic inequalities directly impact mental health in our community,” she explained. “Without having access to these necessities, our mental health services in Prince Albert will continue to be overcapacity.”
Nursing student Kennedy Allen said two studies were conducted that bring to light how prevalent stigma is towards mental health patients within the healthcare system. The research found that over half of healthcare workers held implicit prejudices and stereotypes towards people with mental illness and that over half of doctors experienced mental health issues themselves.
Undergoing anti-stigma training helped the healthcare workers to identify their internal prejudices and made a huge impact on how they treated patients seeking mental health services, said Allen.
Nursing student Megan Pickard stressed the importance of advocating for clients in the healthcare environment, especially those dealing with mental health issues.
“There are times when clients will feel like they don’t know how to advocate for themselves as they often feel devalued, dismissed, and dehumanized by many of our healthcare professionals,” Pickard said.
Coun. Blake Edwards said all of Canada is struggling with how to handle mental health, not just Prince Albert, and it comes down to a lack of resources.
“It’s a very complex issue,” he said. “People aren’t given enough time. Our workers don’t have the time to sit down and figure things out, they’re running from patient to patient. People’s needs aren’t getting brought forward and addressed in a timely manner before they turn to substances or crime; it’s just a shame.”
Student Talin Romanchuk said that when patients are understood, advocated for and educated, the result is a positive outcome for both the clients and the system.
“As much as healthcare individuals are trying to make it better, there are systematic barriers that are playing a great role into the outcome of our success in our mental health emergency services,” Romanchuk said.
She added that as leaders of the community, the complexities behind mental illness must be taken into consideration while discussing action.
Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick said that more actions would be taken if the City had access to more resources and that it takes all three levels of government working together to implement the strategies brought forward. He suggested that the students also lobby the provincial and federal governments to work with the City of Prince Albert in dealing with the issued raised during the presentation.
Tony Head, City Coun. For Ward 3, agreed that it’s important to advocate at different levels of government. And while the City is restricted in what they can accomplish, he mentioned that City Council recently passed a motion to look at ways of bringing in a permanent solutions, such as a critical care centre that would include mental health services.
Mayor Greg Dionne said one of the biggest challenges is that the general public doesn’t understand what mental health is.
“They don’t understand that mental health is in this room,” said Dionne as he gestured to everyone within City Hall Chambers. “It’s everywhere and it touches everyone… I give you all the credit in the world for tackling this because it’s a hard subject and in lots of cases, it’s a subject that no one wants to talk about.”
Dionne congratulated the nursing students for presenting their findings to Council and moved that the correspondence be received and filed, which was carried unanimously.