> May 2013 Action Plan!

Sask Health Minister Dustin Duncan speaks during a news conference at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Regina announcing that an inter-ministerial action plan will be developed to address the complex and often connected issues of mental health and addictions. Photo taken in Regina on May 07, 2013.Several Saskatchewan government ministries are teaming up to address the complex and often connected issues of mental health and addictions.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan announced Tuesday that the ministries of health, social services, education, corrections and policing and justice will develop a mental health and addictions action plan.

"Mental health isn't just an issue for health, which is typically how we viewed mental health in the past," Duncan told reporters.

A steering committee, comprised of representatives from ministries and outside agencies, will appoint a commissioner in the coming weeks.

"We will have that commissioner go out and look at what currently is the experience for patients that are going through mental health illnesses and challenges within our province - both those that are a mild or a moderate form as well as the severe form," Duncan said.

"We want to get that patient experience similar to what we did in the Patient First Review."

Consultations will also be done with advocates, stakeholders, front-line mental health and addiction workers, the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth and provincial ombudsman.

The plan and accompanying recommendations are to be complete by fall 2014.

It is expected a representative from the Mental Health Commission of Canada will sit on the executive steering committee.

"We want to see how we can integrate some of the work they've done into the work we're going to do here," Duncan said.

A number of provinces already have an integrated mental health plan. 

"Organizations that deal in the areas of mental health and addictions have indicated that we do need to look at a more integrated approach to dealing with people who are experiencing mental health challenges or addiction problems in the province," Duncan said.

Dave Nelson, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Saskatchewan division, is hopeful the plan will improve services.

"We have been asking for a plan for mental health and addictions for many years," said Nelson, who added he is pleased the plan involves multiple ministries.

"Big chunks of what we might call mental wellness or mental health are actually done by social services, education, justice and other ministries," Nelson said. "If we can get an inter-ministerial action plan together that brings all these things together and looks at the best way to move forward with new initiatives and new models, we're 110 per cent behind this."

He advocates for more counselling services to help people deal with issues, such as mild anxiety or depression, before the conditions worsen.

Nelson would also like to see primary health-care teams consisting of a psychiatrist, social worker, nurse practitioner and occupational therapist provide services, particularly in northern and rural communities.

Duncan noted that at a few of the innovation primary health-care sites established last year, a patient can be referred by his physician to a social worker or other mental health practitioner in the same clinic.

He acknowledged the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region's use of Lean principles to shorten wait times for mental health services, but said more work remains.

Dr. Fern Stockdale Winder, vice-chair of the board of directors of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said the rest of Canada is monitoring Saskatchewan's use of Lean principles to make mental health services more efficient.

"We're delighted that the Saskatchewan government is taking this initiative," Stockdale Winder said of the provincial action plan.

© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post