Why Don’t We Have Mental Health Navigation?

 In English, Healthcare Navigation

It can save thousands of lives untold millions of dollars.

It’s used with virtually every cancer patient in Canada. And yet, we’re not thinking of this proven, cost-efficient technique to improve the speed and quality of care for a disease that costs much more than cancer to treat.

Maybe the news last month that one in 10 Canadians was thinking of taking their own lives because of the pandemic will force us to think of new ways to fight the pandemic of mental illness that’s going to hit us this summer.

Maybe our reluctance is the same as around mental illness itself. Despite our heightened awareness that mental illness is a disease and not a weakness of character, it still carries a lot of stigma, and especially around depression and anxiety.

But there’s another, bigger impediment at work here. Unlike even the most devastating physical illnesses like cancer, patients with mental illnesses are likely not aware they have them. Are you feeling very sad today, or are you depressed? It’s hard to tell, especially if you’re the one feeling sad or depressed.

Worse still, knowing you’re depressed may not help you become undepressed.

As the professionals say, mental illness is prohibitive of self-care. In fact, it’s almost impossible to get better from a mental illness on your own. All the willpower in the world may not help you.

So you’d think of any disease group that deserves compulsory navigation like what exists for cancer, it would be mental illnesses.

Yet while there are cancer navigators in Dawson Creek (population 13,000), in Toronto (population 3,000,000), you can count the number of mental health navigation programs on one hand.

In fact, aside from an occasional far-seeing psychiatric nurse who decides to take on her patients as a kind of personal coach, mental health navigators don’t exist.

This doesn’t imply it’s a bad idea. In fact, it gives Canada the chance that it can be a world leader in common sense and lateral thinking.

Now that COVID has stripped bare so much conventional wisdom around how to protect ourselves from disease, I think this the perfect time to raise our hands with the provincial governments and say: “You’ve funded cancer navigators for over 10  years now. You know they make our cancer care system work faster, smoother and more human. 

You know precisely the costs of paying to train and use patient navigators, and you know precisely how much you save by having cancer patients guided through the system at one of the most vulnerable points in their lives. So why don’t you turn that data that only you have into action that can save you even more and that you can take credit for?”

But do people with mental illnesses really need navigators?

Well, think of the last time you worked on a diet or an exercise program. If you did it alone, it was a lot harder to succeed than if you had someone in your corner not just cheering you on, but giving you expert advice and pointing you to the right places and away from the wrong ones.

So think of mental illness as being 10 times harder than any diet or exercise program.

I wrote about this last week in The National Post. If you think the way I do, that we’re on the cusp of creating very real change, head to our contact us page and get in touch. Let’s see how we can work to bring patient navigation to the area of healthcare that needs it so desperately.

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