Mental health services to get $25-million boost

Mental health and addiction services in Alberta will grow by $25 million, with a focus on community access to psychologists, counsellors, outreach, and school-based support for students.

Mental health and addiction services in Alberta will grow by $25 million, with a focus on community access to psychologists, counsellors, outreach, and school-based support for students.

The funding increase is part of the 2012 provincial budget, with details announced in Edmonton Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne on Monday.

Another $15 million will go towards renovations to add 60 more beds to Alberta Hospital Edmonton.

Horne said this is the opportunity to expand services that mental health and addictions professionals have been waiting for.

“We see in our emergency department people who are struggling with mental health and addictions issues who are caught in circle between the emergency department, probably the hospital, perhaps the criminal justice system,” Horne said.

He said one in five people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and remaining four will have a friend, family member or colleague affected.

“Alcohol abuse costs Albertans $855 million in lost productivity, $407 million in direct health-care costs, and $275 million for law enforcement on an annual basis.”

And as many as 10 per cent of the people over age 15 may be dependent on alcohol or drugs.

Red Deer Public School District superintendent Piet Langstraat welcomed more funding to help students.

“There certainly is a need. We see it every day in our schools, whether it’s addiction issues, tobacco-reduction issues, suicide prevention, basic mental health,” Langstraat said.

Students struggle with the same mental health issues as adults, like depression, he said.

Kathleen Finnigan, associate superintendent for student services with Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division, said the division is waiting for details but is encouraged by Horne’s announcement.

“We really appreciate the progressiveness of the government to look at this area and put money towards it,” Finnigan said.

“It just tells me they’re listening. They are listening to those social issues within our community and in our province.”

Stacey Carmichael, director of programs with Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing, said several agencies are trying meet the needs of people with addiction and mental health.

“We’ve got some really good things in our community that are working really well but if they had a little bit more funding, could work even better,” Carmichael said.

She is waiting to see how the funding will be spread across the province.

“I often find, despite everyone’s best intentions, the smaller communities don’t often get a lot of that funding.”

Safe Harbour operates homeless shelters, housing, and a non-medical detox program.

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