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'Suffering in silence': Less than half of people with depression seeking help


May 6 to 10 is the Canadian Mental Health Association's 68th annual Mental Health Week

Any doctor can help you access mental health care and even offer interim treatment until you find someone to work with

Coast Mental Health CEO says there are capacity issues across B.C.’s mental health system

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – When you have a broken bone you know exactly where to get help and don’t hesitate, so why is it so many of us suffer in silence when our brains stop functioning?

While stigma toward mental health has been declining it can still be overwhelming and intimidating to access the care you need, says CEO of Coast Mental Health, Darrell Burnham.

“It’s not something you do everyday, so if you go to a doctor for a normal medical issue, you know the path. But for mental health care, sometimes you don’t even know you need it yourself, it’s your friends or family saying you need help… the path isn’t always obvious,” he says.

On top of that, making a phone call or a doctor’s visit can feel like a massive barrier to someone who is barely functioning socially.

“The stats show probably with depression that less than half actually get any help. They just kind of suffer in silence. They may kind of become less social and more bleak. They may disconnect from social networks,” says Burnham.

The first step

A family doctor or general practitioner at a walk in clinic can help you access services covered by MSP in B.C. or they can offer prescription medications.

A general practitioner should be your first stop, according to Burnham, but they may escalate your treatment by referring you to a psychologist or psychiatrist if you need long term care or are dealing with issues beyond depression and anxiety.

“If you don’t have an [insurance] plan, psychologists and counselling may be pricey,” Burnham warns, adding there are often waitlists for such services and accepting interim treatments from your doctor could help bridge that gap.

One of the biggest barriers to seeking help can be the urge to burrow into your blanket and never come up for air but Burnham says isolating yourself from loved ones is almost never a good thing.

“You should be with friends. Even if you don’t feel that social, [being] surrounded by people is a good thing.”

If you can’t bring yourself to have a conversation about mental health with your general practitioner, he suggests calling your local mental health centre. Most resources in the Lower Mainland are listed on HealthLinkBC.

Over capacity

A lot has changed in the field of mental health since Burnham started his work more than 25 years ago when most people simply didn’t talk about the topic.

“Now people are engaged and interested in mental health, we’ve crossed that critical mass of people talking about it and sharing their stories,” he says. He thinks millennials have been a big part in that.

“They are actually helping move this awareness and understanding and acceptance along much faster, and I think it’s great and it will make it easier for those seeking help.”

One outstanding issue is the political will to make mental health a bigger part of the budget and fill in the remaining gaps in long term care and supportive housing.

“It’s still hard to navigate the first step and some parts of the system are just overloaded … you might need the support but the resource is not available because it’s full,” he says.

“There are capacity issues. The province needs to improve capacity for a whole array of services throughout the field.”