Blog: All Albertans Need to be Included in Mental Health and Wellness Initiatives
All Albertans, regardless of their demographic background, deserve to be included and supported by mental health and wellness initiatives. Issues such as inequitable funding models, accessibility, and siloed system designs require our attention as they continue to create barriers for mental health inclusion.
By Jordan Clark Marcichiw, ESPC Volunteer
One in five Canadians are likely to be affected by a mental health disorder at some time in their life. (1) Though all people are at risk of experiencing mental health concerns, marginalized groups such as youth, seniors, racial minorities, and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ population are at a heightened risk. (2) Despite this, our mainstream mental health services are not always inclusive to these populations. An American study found a significant racial divide in access to mental health services, resulting in Asian Americans to be 51% less likely to utilize services than white Americans, Latino Americans are 25% less likely, and Black Americans are 21% less likely. (3) This racial divide has been observed in Canadian contexts as well. (4) Having a sense of inclusion appears to have positive effects on individual and collective mental health and can prevent psychological harm. (5) As mental health advocates, we must ask ourselves what barriers exist preventing the inclusion of equity seeking groups in mental health services. Mental health initiatives which neglect to reflect the diverse needs and perspectives of those accessing services will serve to further isolate and neglect these equity seeking populations. Therefore, inclusion must be of the utmost importance when creating mental health initiatives.
Some examples of ways to foster inclusion include:
Equitable and Appropriate Funding: Issues of underfunding lead to longer wait times, inefficient systems, and prevent Albertans from accessing appropriate and relevant mental health support systems. (2) Appropriate funding models would allow the development of specialized services which address the unique issues and needs of equity seeking groups. The Canadian Mental Health Association argues that based on a health-equity spending approach, the Government of Alberta should be spending 12% of the total health budget on addictions and mental health, when only 6% is being allocated to these causes. (2) More information on the health-equity approach can be found here. (6)
Accessibility: Accessibility remains a significant barrier to Albertans in need of mental health supports. (7) Waitlists, lack of resources in rural settings, and the costs of services remain significant barriers to access. (8) The Canadian Mental Health Association recommends our public health care model adopt mental health supports into its coverage, allowing access to mental health intervention as well as prevention. (7) Issues such as systemic racism also has a significant impact on individual’s accessing services. For example, a Canadian study found Black youths were less likely to access services if they felt the providers were not culturally competent, or if mental health programs were located out of their geographic community and instead clustered in higher income white neighbourhoods. (4) Ensuring our mental health systems are actively anti-oppressive, inclusive, and equitable is a necessary step towards accessible services.
“In the context of intercultural competence and awareness, the majority of the youths affirmed that the mere thought of experiencing a culturally inappropriate health provider was sufficient to deter them from accessing mental health services.” (4)
Integration: Mental health and wellness requires an integrative, collaborative approach. Mental unwellness can be prevented through supportive community design models that supports issues such as housing, food security, and access to natural green spaces. (9) Taking a community development approach which engages the community allows for inclusive, relevant, and integrated services to develop where clients are geographically located. (2) Collaboration on mental health services between health providers, not-for-profit agencies, and other systems where people gather allow for holistic, wrap-around care for individuals. (2)
Though there is a lot of work left to do, there are many agencies in Alberta who are working towards mental health inclusion. To learn more:
211: 211 Alberta allows for easy access to information on available mental health resources in Alberta.
Alberta Family Wellness Initiative: AFWI conducts research on mental health and wellness and provides education to better support policy and practice around mental health.
The Family Center: TFC is a trauma-informed agency whose focus is on fostering healthy families and children. They take an integrated approach, providing mental health resources for clients in community settings such as school, home, and community hubs.
Native Counselling Services of Alberta: NCSA is an Indigenous-led agency serving to promote the resilience of Indigenous people and families in Alberta. NCSA utilizes Indigenous ways of knowing to promote mental wellbeing and inclusion.
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Jordan Clark Marcichiw (she/her) is a social worker who is passionate about spreading knowledge and advocating for systems change for the betterment of all individuals. Her personal interests include hiking, kayaking, skiing, playing slopitch, reading, and adventuring with her pup.
(1) Center for Addiction and Mental Health (n.d.). Mental illness and addiction: Facts and statistics. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics
(2) Canadian Mental Health Association (n.d.). Making mental health matter in Alberta: Advocacy toolkit. Retrieved from https://alberta.cmha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Election-Toolkit-FINAL.pdf
(3) Chmura, A. (April 2022). The connection between mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion. Workhuman. Retrieved from https://www.workhuman.com/blog/the-connection-between-mental-health-and-diversity-equity-and-inclusion/
(4) Salami, B., Denga, B., Taylor, R., Ajayi, N., Jackson, M., Asefaw, M., & Salma, J. (September 2021). “Access to mental health for Black youths in Alberta”. Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada 41(9). 245-253. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/reports-publications/health-promotion-chronic-disease-prevention-canada-research-policy-practice/vol-41-no-9-2021/hpcdp-41-9-01-eng.pdf
(5) Staglin, G. (July 2020). The essential role of mental health for a diverse, inclusive workplace. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/onemind/2020/07/14/the-essential-role-of-mental-health-for-a-diverse-inclusive-workplace/?sh=5cb932beac4d
(6) Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (n.d.). Achieving health equity: Why health equity matters and what you can do to help give everyone a fair shot at being as healthy as they can be. Retrieved from https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/features/achieving-health-equity.html
(7) Canadian Mental Health Association (October 2020). No health without mental health. Retrieved from https://alberta.cmha.ca/news/no-health-without-mental-health/
(8) Rural Mental Health Network (n.d.). Who we are. Retrieved from https://www.ruralmentalhealth.ca/about/who-we-are
(9) Gailling, C. (October 2019). Where you live makes a difference to mental health and well-being. Tamarack Institute. Retrieved from https://www.tamarackcommunity.ca/latest/where-you-live-mental-health-well-being