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Issues with B.C.'s mental health system highlighted by 16-month wait for consultation

Last Updated Jul 23, 2021 at 10:04 am PDT

(iStock image)

An Abbotsford woman says the earliest date she can get an appointment for her ADHD is 16 months from now

'We need to seriously invest in our mental health care system,' says Sara Bremner

B.C.'s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions admits waits are too long and more work is needed

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – An Abbotsford woman says the 16 months she’s been told to wait for an ADHD consultation appointment is just another example of shortcomings in B.C.’s mental health system.

Sara Bremner says she was expecting to have to wait a bit — but not this long. She says she was surprised to hear that the earliest appointment available in her area is in December 2022.

“This is basically a referral through MSP, through my GP,” Bremner explained, adding her doctor told her weeks ago that she likely has ADHD. “I got a form back from the clinic via email and I filled it out and returned it. They sent me the email telling me that the first appointment available is 16 months from now.”

Sara Bremner says she was surprised to find out the earliest she could get an ADHD consultation appointment was in December 2022. She says B.C.’s mental health system needs work. (Submitted)

Since the shock set in, Bremner tells NEWS 1130 she has learned she can get an earlier appointment if she opts for a paid, private route.

But even that comes with its own issues.

“I’m considering saving in order to do that. [But] it points to a problem in term of access for me, for people who don’t have the money to spend to get fast-tracked. It’s kind of a two-tiered system,” she said.

Bremner says long waitlists are also common for other mental health appointments, but her ADHD appointment wait is by far the worst she’s experienced so far.

“This is kind of extreme,” she added.

In an email to NEWS 1130, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions points to investments made over the years to supports and services. However, the ministry admits waitlists are still too long.

“We know that for many years, people who need mental health care have struggled to get the help they need and COVID-19 has made these challenges worse,” the ministry’s statement reads, adding, “There is much more work to do.”

Bremner says waits as long as these can have a major impact on people’s lives. She tells NEWS 1130 that her doctor is working with her to try to help her through the delay, but she admits that’s not something that’s always available to everyone.

And the lack of a formal diagnosis means she will have to wait further for certain supports in school, work, and life.

“I have anxiety and depression as well, and I have been through the disability route with that, and there’s supports like extra time, having professors give you a bit more leeway with deadlines, there’s financial supports … that aren’t available unless you have formal documentation,” she said, adding she is studying with the goal of getting into conservation one day.

But Bremner says ADHD is often linked to math disabilities. Getting into grad school to pursue conservation includes chemistry — something Bremner says she struggles with.

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Because of this, she says she’s facing additional obstacles, especially due to a lack of support related to math disabilities.

“It does have a profound effect on that,” she said of her future career. “I have had to drop out of courses before because it’s not working, or I’ve failed courses, and I basically lose tuition every time I do something like that. So financially it has an impact and the longer I have to go without getting these supports and keep failing, the longer it’s going to take for me to end up in grad school.”

Bremner wants to see changes brought in to help people who may be struggling in a more timely manner.

“I know there’s a shortage of qualified mental health professionals out there, and that’s part of the problem, we need to focus on acute care because we don’t have enough people. But that means that people’s chronic conditions often go under the radar,” she explained.

She would also like to see more funding support for adults who may be wondering why they’ve struggled their whole lives and who haven’t been formally diagnosed.

“We’re facing a mental health crisis, particularly because of the pandemic, and I think that’s made things worse. But I don’t think that’s going to necessarily get better, given the state of the world. We need to seriously invest in our mental health care system because it’s just not adequate for the needs of people today,” Bremner said.