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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

New psych unit a drop in the bucket for mental health

Forcing a patient in crisis to spend up to four hours in an emergency room before seeing a psychiatrist won’t do a lot for their mental health. 


On paper, the new brief psychiatric intervention unit at the Centre intégré de santé et des services sociaux (CISSS) de l'Outaouais in Gatineau is certainly a step in the right direction with regard to mental health treatment in the region. However, once you drill down into details of the new unit that aims to reduce lengthy hospital stays, the approach falls short of giving people in crisis a direct line to immediate help. 


Eligibility criteria for the new, short-term mental health unit states that it offers stays up to 72 hours for “any person aged 18 and over who is in a crisis situation with psychiatric components,” and whose daily life is affected to the point where “an episode of inpatient care is necessary to stabilize his or her state of health.”


But for a person in crisis to be accepted into the unit, they first need to be referred there by a psychiatrist – if they have one – or be seen by an on-call psychiatrist at a local emergency room, where wait times have skyrocketed across the province. 


According to Santé Quebec the province’s new centralized healthcare department, average wait times across the province are at six hours and 6 minutes, while stretcher wait times are over 17 hours before a patient is released or transferred to another unit. Current wait times at the Wakefield Hospital are a bit lower – close to four hours for “non-priority cases,” but every second counts when a patient is experiencing a mental health crisis. 


According to a Statistics Canada study released in 2021, close to one in five Canadians aged 12 and older reported that they needed some help with their mental health, and of those polled, nearly half – 45 per cent – reported that their needs were either unmet or only partially met. Quebec stats are similar: about 20 per cent of the population will experience a mental health breakdown in their lifetime. That’s close to 1.7 million Quebecers who will need help at some point in their lives. Broken down further, this means that more than 80,000 Outaouais residents will go through some mental trauma in their lifetime. In the Hills, MRC des Collines Police Chief Martial Mallette reported a 300 per cent jump in mental health calls to his detachment in 2022. 


While the four new spots at the new psychiatric unit in Gatineau are a much-needed alternative, it’s a drop in the bucket for what is needed here, across the province and across the country. 


The CISSS gets major praise for launching this program, and although there are only four beds, the centre has already seen over 60 patients come through the unit since it launched this fall. What’s exceptional about this unit is that it doesn’t matter what language you speak. Bilingual staff are on hand to serve both anglophone and francophone patients, while translators will be consulted for those who speak other languages. 


But what’s missing is a direct link between patients and mental health practitioners, as forcing patients to spend two to four hours in a hospital waiting room when they are in a crisis won’t help those who need immediate intervention. 


With close to 80,000 of us needing help at some point in our lives, what we need is a full-blown mental health clinic, with a team of psychiatrists, social workers and medical professionals that are on hand, ready to accept patients in a crisis.


Many of us will need help when a mental health crisis arrives and when that happens, it'll need to be immediate. 

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