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How Long Should Canadians Stay Depressed: The Flaw Within Our System

Andy* moved to Toronto 3 years ago to study engineering at one of this city's best universities. A couple of months after his arrival, the stress of school combined with feeling homesick had left him anxious and very nervous at all times. He could not explain why he felt so anxious all the time and the anxiety prevented him from going about his day.He reached out to the school's student centre but was put on a waiting list of 5-6 weeks.

He started skipping class and spending more time on his own, becoming more and more isolated and alone. Looking back, he believes that seeing someone would have prevented him from going to the ER after a panic attack; he thought he was having a heart attack. He found a therapist and was able to get back on track with school within a couple of months.

He's not alone in experiencing a mood disorder, an estimated 20 per cent of Canadians experience a mood disorder in their lifetime and 90 per cent of people who are depressed don't seek help.

In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health problem. According to a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the percentage of ER visits by young adults jumped by 45 per cent from 2007 to 2014. The same report mentioned that 40 per cent of the children and young adults who go to the ER due to a mental health problem had three or more repeat visits -- mainly because they could not find the help they needed in the community.

This reference to seeking help in the community is extremely important for people in waiting lists for psychotherapy at hospitals, student centres, and clinics. A study conducted for the Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that we tend to consult our family doctors about a mental health problems more than any other mental health provider. A family physician can prescribe medication for anxiety and depression based on a conversation they had in a 15- 20 minute visit. Canadians readily access mental health medications not necessarily because it's the best option but because it's the easiest.

Psychotherapy works as an effective early intervention either on its own or in combination with drugs. The long-term benefits of therapy versus taking medications outweigh the cost and time commitment because therapy (standalone or in combination with drugs) prevents future relapse. Countries like Australia and the UK have made significant investments in creating better access to psychotherapy -- considering the long term returns on investment.

There are a number of issues preventing Canadians from seeking therapy and we need to minimize these barriers to encourage people who need help to try therapy. These barriers include:

Accessibility: Busy lives, responsibilities, and commuting all contribute to someone not seeking therapy. Not everyone owns a car or has the time to go to a clinic during working hours.

Affordability: Therapy is expensive and has been presented, by the media, as something rich people do. Lack of affordable therapy, or the notion of it, is another reason why many people avoid therapy.

Stigma: For years seeing a therapist meant you were crazy, but the level of societal stigma has been falling as of late. Still, many people don't think therapists are competent and would rather try to "fix things" themselves. These types of attitudes can lead to misuse of alcohol and drugs.

Finding a therapist: Figuring out the right way of getting help increases the drop rate for many Canadians on their way to finding a therapist. Many people don't know the difference between psychiatrists and psychologists, much less the services they offer.

PwC's top health industry issues of 2016 report that 72 per cent of people between the ages of 18 to 44 would rather use a telehealth solution like video conferencing to see a mental health service provider instead of in person visits. Doing more in delivering therapy online can mean more people will see a therapist. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is considered as a "gold standard" of psychotherapy for many mood disorders including anxiety and depression -- the great news is that it can be delivered online and be just as effective as in-person therapy . This can significantly reduce costs and increase access to therapy.

Technology enhanced delivery of CBT has been around in other countries and it's time for Canada to catch up; TranQool provides Canadians with access to a licensed therapist and enables them have their CBT sessions from anywhere via secure video conferencing.

*The name was changed for privacy reasons.

Note: This op-ed originally ran on TranQool's blog -- for similar posts and educational content, follow TranQool's blog !

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