Tag Archives: mental

Canadian runner Seccafien overcomes mental anguish of 2 Australian lockdowns

On a bright November morning in Australia, Andrea Seccafien takes a call from a Toronto reporter before a pair of late spring runs with temperatures set to reach 33C.

“Never a rest day,” said Canada’s record holder in the women’s half marathon. “To run more 5K to half marathon I need to run a lot.”

Seccafien doesn’t mind the scorching heat now that she’s finally training for a race — a half marathon Dec. 13 in the Australian island state of Tasmania — after two coronavirus pandemic lockdowns kept her out of competition from March through October.

Seccafien’s mental health suffered greatly through those months. Sharing a small apartment with fiancé Jamie Whitfield, she became overwhelmed by “a spiral of thoughts, a lot of worries” and took a break from training in June before the second lockdown of 111 days.

Seccafien often wondered if the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics would indeed be held next summer. Would she get a chance to qualify for the Summer Games in the 10,000 metres? What would a long layoff mean for her career?

Everything felt so much harder because my heart rate was always 20 beats over a normal amount.— Canadian runner Andrea Seccafien on training while struggling with mental health

“I didn’t know what was wrong [with me]. I was definitely dealing with a lot of anxiety but thankfully we have a really good support group with Athletics Canada,” said Seccafien, who also began seeing a sports psychologist in Australia, where she has lived since late 2017 after Jamie got a job as a post-doctoral researcher at the Melbourne campus of the Australian Catholic University.

“I also wasn’t sleeping well, so it was just a lot of things going on.”

During lockdown, Melbourne’s five million residents could leave home to exercise outside and buy groceries but not travel further than five kilometres. Fortunately, there was 31 km stretch of running space for Seccafien on a nearby trail system. Still, the native of Guelph, Ont., faced many challenges.

“Everything felt so much harder because my heart rate was always 20 beats over a normal amount,” the 30-year-old recalled, her voice cracking with emotion. “My body was amped up all the time.

‘Nerve-racking’ without treatment

“I would try to do a workout but running a time that would normally be very easy would feel as if I was doing a threshold or a pace faster and harder than a regular easy run.”

During tougher training sessions on the road, Jamie would bike alongside Seccafien and joined her on all her long runs.

“That was extremely helpful. It was really hard [emotionally] but we’re a good team,” said the Melbourne Track Club member, who found it “nerve-racking” running 150 km weekly and not being able to receive physio and massage therapy.

Looking back, Seccafien realizes stepping away was necessary after struggling through training and not seeing improvement in her fitness.

“When we went back into lockdown in July, it gave me time to train on my own, at my own pace and not compare myself to others, which was beneficial to getting back into fitness and confident again,” said Seccafien, who also focused on meditation and her daily training responsibilities to work through the anxiety. “I think if I had to go back training [with my group] it would have spiraled again. Now, I feel normal.”

Seccafien is also in good physical health after tearing her right plantar — the ligament connecting the heel bone to your toes — in September 2018. After attempts to run through the pain led to a stress reaction (deep bone bruise) and prevented her from racing the 10,000, Seccafien reinjured the plantar while finishing second in the 5,000 at the Canadian championships in Montreal on July 25, 2019.

She recovered to run two personal-best times in three days that October in Doha, Qatar — 15:04.67 in the semifinals to shave nearly four seconds off her PB and hit the 15:10 Olympic standard, then clocking her first-ever sub-15-minute 5,000 to place 13th in her first world final.

WATCH | Andrea Seccafien runs sub-15-minute 5,000m for 1st time:

Canada’s Andrea Seccafien runs a person best time of 14:59.95 in the 5,000 metres final. 6:42

“You always want to finish higher, so the goal in Tokyo would be top eight or 10,” said Seccafien, who was 20th at her 2016 Olympic debut in Rio. “In Rio I was so green. I was making moves and wasting energy. Now, I feel I’ve learned how to run those [championship] races.”

In Tasmania, the former University of Toronto Track Club runner will race for the first time since setting a 33:05 PB in the 10K on Feb. 23, three weeks after taking down Natasha Wodak’s Canadian half marathon record in 1:09:38 at the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon in Japan.

“Since August, I have had a consistent block of training and I do think I’m quite fit, so there is no reason it shouldn’t go well,” said Seccafien, who remains hopeful of running the 5,000 and 10,000 in Tokyo. “I don’t know if it’ll be a Canadian record race, but I hope to be around that time.”

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CBC | Sports News

Quebec’s $100M mental health funding announcement pushed up in wake of sword attack in capital

In his first public address since a sword attack that killed two people in Quebec’s capital on Halloween, Premier François Legault says the province will invest more time and money into improving mental health services. 

“What happened on Saturday night is appalling,” Legault said at a news conference Monday morning. “It’s hard to understand how such violence can occur. It raises questions about mental illness.”

“We can reduce the impacts for certain people who have mental illness by offering more services,” he said.   

When announcing details of $ 100 million in provincial funding for mental health services Monday afternoon, Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s junior health minister, said he didn’t want to draw any links between the pandemic’s effects on people’s mental health and the attack, but said the government was taking those effects seriously.  

The funding announcement was expected next week, but was pushed ahead in light of the attacks. 

On Sunday, 24-year-old Carl Girouard was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder after allegedly attacking seven people in Old Quebec on Halloween night with a sword while dressed in a medieval outfit. He is expected back in court Thursday. 

Carmant said he also wanted to make sure people don’t confuse mental health issues with mental health illnesses, and said that people who experience either are rarely violent. 

“I think that what happened this weekend was unpredictable and that we can’t make a definitive link to the pandemic.”

A third of the $ 100 million in funding will go toward reducing wait lists for mental health services, both in public health and education settings. There are 16,000 people in line for mental health services, Carmant said. 

Another third of the money will go to improving services in health facilities. Of the rest of the funding, $ 19 million will go to street workers who are part of a team called Sentinelle, whose role is to meet with vulnerable populations, and $ 10 million will go to community organizations providing mental health services. 

Too soon to diagnose suspect, expert says

Though experts say it is too soon to diagnose the suspect in the attacks, some drew comparisons to the trauma experienced in the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting. Meanwhile, the province also moved to provide psychosocial supports for those affected by the attacks.

Marc-André Lamontagne, a psychologist who interviewed the Quebec City mosque shooter over two days in 2018, said there are some commonalities between the two incidents, namely that they occurred in a public place and people were not expecting to be attacked. 

“But when it comes to motivation, what’s hidden behind the act, the personal history — for now, we don’t know enough to establish resemblance between the two cases,” Lamontagne said. 

University of Ottawa psychology professor Tracy Vaillancourt, who studies the links between mental health and violence as a Canada Tier 1 Research Chair, pointed out that the mosque shooting “was a targeted event — it was directed at individuals because of their religion.”

Streets were blocked off and orange tape was strung up throughout the Old Quebec on Sunday. (Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada)

Police and provincial and municipal officials held a news conference Sunday morning, where Quebec City police said the suspect’s actions show that he likely premeditated the attack, but that the victims were chosen at random. They said Girouard does not have a criminal record, but the suspect did reveal five years ago in a “medical context” that he wanted to commit a violent act.

Vaillancourt said that past history is a better indicator of the likelihood someone would commit a violent act, rather than mental health issues. 

Mental health support crucial, officials say

Describing mental illness as the “biggest safety concern” in major Canadian cities for decades to come, Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said during Sunday’s news conference that it is becoming increasingly difficult for authorities to manage.

Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault echoed Labeaume’s call for public discussion about mental health Sunday, calling it “a major issue that has perhaps been too long and too often forgotten.”

Manon Massé, co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, said COVID-19 public health restrictions “are causing even more distress” than usual. 

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said the question of mental health is “at the heart of what we do.”

Monday evening, Labeaume held a news conference saying he welcomed the $ 100-million investment from the provincial government, but was calling for a debate about how mental health services are administered in the province.

“People want to know what innovations there are in how we intervene in mental health; what other places are doing; whether we’re doing things the right way, and can we re-discuss existing laws? People want to understand why mental health feels like a bigger problem than it was 10 or 20 years ago,” Labeaume said. 

Describing it as the “biggest safety concern in major Canadian cities for decades to come,” Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said mental illness is becoming increasingly difficult for authorities to manage. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Quebec City’s regional health authority is sending an intervention team to provide psychosocial support to citizens of Old Quebec on Monday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the corner of Hébert and Remparts streets, near where the attacks occurred.

The Info-Social 811 line is also available to answer calls for people who need support. 

Labeaume will offer a message of reassurance and comfort to students at the Collège François-de-Laval and the École des Ursulines in Old Quebec, which are also near the scene of Saturday’s attack. Psychological support staff will also be sent to the schools.

Memories of Quebec City mosque shooting

Labeaume said the sword attack reminded him of the mosque shooting that took place at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre just under four years ago in his city. 

Mohamed Labidi, founder and president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, said he was also reminded of the 2017 attack. 

“These were gratuitous attacks which should never have taken place,” Labidi said, offering his condolences to the families of the victims.  

He said addressing mental health issues is extremely important. 

“The more we address these issues, the more we will have a peaceful society.”

WATCH | Attack evokes memories of 2017 mosque attack:

Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume say the overnight stabbing in Quebec City reminded them of the 2017 mosque shooting, which killed six people. 1:53

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CBC | Health News

Opioid deaths skyrocket, mental health suffers due to pandemic restrictions, new federal report says

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on Canadians suffering from mental illness, opioid addiction and other substance abuse problems, says a new study released today by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) which confirms anecdotal reports warning that the pandemic’s health consequences extend well beyond the novel coronavirus itself.

Efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing and shutdowns have kept the Canadian caseload relatively low compared to other jurisdictions globally. But the overall health of the population has deteriorated over the last eight months, with more people turning to drugs, alcohol, tobacco and screen time over physical exercise to cope with the stress.

“This year’s annual report describes the heavy toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Canadian society, both directly and indirectly,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday as she released her agency’s annual report.

“These findings are more than just uncomfortable facts about our country during this pandemic. They’re the lived realities of countless Canadians.”

One pandemic, different levels of risk

Confirming what has been well-documented already, PHAC found that long-term care (LTC) homes have been the epicentre of COVID-19-related deaths because “pandemic preparedness did not extend into these settings.” The report said LTC facilities’ limited supplies of personal protective equipment, old infrastructure, poor ventilation and chronic understaffing led to more infections.

People of colour in Canada also have been far more likely to contract the virus, PHAC found. The report says Arab, Black, Middle Eastern, Latin American, South Asian and Southeast Asian Canadians accounted for more than 80 per cent of the cases in Toronto, despite collectively making up slightly more than half of the city’s population.

Friends and family members of residents meet at Extendicare Guildwood, in Toronto, on June 12. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

While the reasons for this minority/majority split in the caseload numbers are unclear, PHAC suggested that pre-existing health disparities, the stress of racism and the preponderance of low-wage work in high-risk places could be to blame.

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada is still in the grips of an opioid crisis — a crisis that is now much worse than it was just a year ago. With travel and border restrictions in place, the local opioid supply has grown more toxic and dangerous, PHAC said.

While Canada made meaningful progress in reducing the rate of overdoses in 2018-19, the number of deaths has increased significantly since the start of this year.

A surge in opioid deaths

In B.C., there were more than 100 “illicit drug toxicity” deaths per month for six consecutive months from March to August 2020, and more than 175 such deaths each month in May, June and July, according to data compiled by PHAC.

B.C.’s highest monthly opioid death toll, in June 2020, was 181, up from 76 in June 2019. First Nations people account for a disproportionate number of these deaths — they were nearly six times more likely to die from an overdose than other B.C. residents.

In July, B.C. paramedics responded to a record high number of overdose calls — a 75 per cent spike in calls compared to the same month last year. Paramedics in B.C. also responded that month to an average of 87 overdose calls a day, or 2,706 calls in total.

Last week, the B.C. Coroners Service said 1,202 people have died of fatal overdoses so far this year, compared to just 983 deaths in all of 2019. The death toll in B.C. in September was more than double the 60 fatalities recorded in the same month last year.

Preliminary data from Ontario also show that the number of confirmed and probable deaths from opioid-related causes has increased by almost 50 per cent, from 148 deaths in January to 220 deaths in May.

A drug user at a safe injection site in Vancouver on March 27, 2018. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Alberta also experienced a dramatic increase in opioid-related deaths in the three-month period from April to June 2020 — 302 deaths, up from the previously recorded high of 211 deaths in a three-month period in 2018.

PHAC heard from frontline workers who said that, because of social restrictions, many more people have been using opioids alone, “decreasing the chance of intervention if they overdose and contributing to the increase in overdose-related fatalities.”

Physical distancing measures at safe-consumption sites designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also resulted in more opioid-related deaths.

At least one supervised consumption site in Ottawa did away with physical distancing measures after several clients overdosed while waiting in line to get in.

We’re drinking and smoking more, moving less

Meanwhile, many Canadians have increased their use of alcohol, cannabis and tobacco during this pandemic.

By early summer, based on surveys by Statistics Canada, alcohol consumption was up 19 per cent, cannabis use jumped 8.3 per cent and tobacco smoking rates were up by 3.9 per cent over pre-pandemic levels.

CBC North has documented a surge in alcohol and substance abuse in Canada’s northern territories thanks in part to more bootlegging and access to cash through the Canadian emergency relief benefit (CERB) and other relief supports.

WATCH: Dr Theresa Tam says pandemic exposed existing inequities in Canadian society

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam says some groups in Canada have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  1:11

The pandemic and its resulting restrictions on social and economic life have had a lasting impact on mental health.

PHAC found that, due to shelter-in-place restrictions, more women have had to stay with abusive partners and LGBTQ kids have been confined to homes with homophobic and transphobic parents and caregivers.

Child welfare agencies are reporting a drop in abuse or neglect reports — but they fear it’s because fewer cases are being reported now that more school-age children are stuck at home without access to school or sports.

“This may be the result of fewer detection opportunities, as children are likely to be isolated at home and without community involvement,” PHAC said.

But it’s not just the vulnerable and marginalized among us who have seen notable drops in mental wellness.

Canada has gone from one of the happiest countries in the world — ninth out of 156 countries according to a 2019 UN report — to one that is noticeably less so.

Less happy, more anxious

In 2018, 68 per cent of Canadians age 15 years and older reported excellent or very good self-perceived mental health. This figure dropped to 54 per cent in late March and early April 2020 before going lower still to 48 per cent in early May, according to Statistics Canada data.

Indigenous people, the disabled and low-income Canadians also have reported experiencing more suicidal thoughts since the outbreak, PHAC found.

With strict social distancing measures and limits on social gatherings in place, many Canadians feel isolated and are worried about the state of their friendships and familial relationships.

70 per cent of Canadians who responded to a recent Statistics Canada survey said they were concerned about maintaining social ties.

54 per cent of respondents with kids said they were very or extremely concerned about their children’s loneliness or social isolation.

While thousands of Canadians have died from COVID-19 — nearly 80 per cent of them in long-term care homes, as of August — there were also more deaths in general this year than last.

“Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec all showed increased numbers of deaths compared to the same time period over the past five years. Some of these additional deaths are directly related to COVID-19, however contributions from other causes not directly linked to COVID-19 cannot be excluded,” PHAC concluded.

Hospitals have seen a drop in walk-in patients for other maladies in emergency rooms. Surgeries have been cancelled or postponed due to capacity restraints, and health professionals fear that people may be avoiding necessary medical care because of pandemic-related worries.

With gyms closed in many jurisdictions and recreational sports leagues on pause, some Canadians are less active. Those who weren’t particularly active before March 2020 lockdown reported being even less so in the months that followed.

More than 60 per cent of Canadians reported spending more time using the internet and watching TV during the pandemic in early April.

“Limited physical activity as a result of public health measures to physically isolate may also have an impact on mental health. Research has demonstrated that people who were able to engage in physical activity outdoors were more likely to report excellent or very good mental health,” PHAC said.

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CBC | Health News

Canadian Olympic champions say sports help cope with mental strain of pandemic

Around the planet, people are obsessed with the pandemic.

Stress and anxiety are universal. The threat to the physical well-being of all humans is also having a negative effect on how we feel mentally.

We isolate and we stay in our bubbles. We’re told this is not a time for fun and games. We are constantly fearful of being with others.

But three champions we spoke to are advocating an increased role for sport at the community level to help us get through this.

“Physical activity and sport are essential and contribute to healthier communities overall,” said Olympic gold medallist and gymnast Kyle Shewfelt.

WATCH | Jennifer Heil discusses importance of sport on mental health:

It’s World Mental Health Day and Olympic champion Jennifer Heil joined Scott Russell to discuss how sport can help with mental health. 4:14

He has only recently re-opened his gymnasium facility in Calgary which offers non-competitive programs aimed at growing the grassroots movement of the sport for people of all ages and ability.

“I’ve always felt there is value in leaving your house. Putting down your phone and participating in an activity where you can immerse yourself one hundred per cent into it. Sport provides that place.”

For Catriona Le May Doan, a double Olympic gold medallist in speed skating, her current position as the President and CEO of Sport Calgary has required her to champion the role that sport can play in keeping citizens of her city well-balanced and involved in everyday life.

“I am very worried that we will see the mental health of youth and adults suffer due to a lack of access to sport,” she said via email.

“Not only is it hard for some to be pulled away from their friends and support groups, but many fear right now that sport isn’t safe to return to and therefore they lack the ability to have an outlet or release.”

Jennifer Heil won an Olympic gold medal in moguls skiing at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy. She’s a special advisor to ViaSport BC, a non-profit organization committed to increasing participation in sports and recreational pursuits in that province.

“It’s important that we prioritize sport among other activities for the mental health of young people,” Heil said from her home in Vancouver while on a Zoom conversation. “Sport gets kids off their devices, which we know is a huge issue around mental health, and it connects them with their peers and their communities.

“It’s a critical part of many Canadians’ lives. It builds so many skills that have nothing to do with technical skills. It sets people up for leadership roles and it changes the composition of our brains by building brain function and capacity. The results of physical activity and sport are endless. I don’t know that we fully embrace it the way we need to.”

Catriona Le May Doan is honoured before a Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Carolina Hurricanes game in 2002 after winning Olympic gold in the women’s speed skating 500m at the Games in Salt Lake City. (J.P. Moczulski/The Canadian Press)

But while sport has obvious benefits, there are hurdles to overcome. Fears persist that returning to the fields of play en masse may end up doing more harm than good.

“Organizations and facilities across the country have demonstrated that sport can be done in a safe manner – we are all working so hard to ensure we are meeting provincial guidelines because we know the future of sport is at stake,” Shewfelt stressed.

“Sport is an escape that can help us all feel a sense of control in this very overwhelming time. Accountability, belonging and a sense of purpose are all very important factors that contribute to mental health.”

“I’ve heard countless stories from families about how much their children were missing their sports, coaches, and teammates. I can tell you first hand that I have never seen a group of kids happier to be back in a gym than they were on that first day we reopened our doors. Every kid was beaming.”

WATCH | Kyle Shewfelt reflects on 2004 floor exercise gold medal:

CBC Sports’ Scott Russell talked to former Olympic gymnast Kyle Shewfelt about winning gold at the 2004 Athens Games. 4:17

For Le May Doan, the key, in an era of uncertainty, is for sport to provide territory where all people can find comfort, fulfilment, and community.

“We must continue to make sport safe,” she urged.

“With important programs like the ‘RESPECT’ program we continue to make sure that youth are safe in a physical, mental, and emotional environment. We must continue to educate youth on what is proper and respectful behaviour by all involved including themselves, and continue to make sure that their voices are heard. Sport helps build confidence for them to deal with the stress and anxiety of this moment and it gives them a voice to seek help in dealing with this issue.

“We know the physical benefits of sport – but we don’t talk enough about how it is so important for our mental well-being.”

Heil is like the other champions who are working in their communities to return to sport for the collective well-being. She’s a parent of young children and subscribes to the theory that a healthy body goes hand-in-hand with a healthy mind.

“I don’t know any other way, to be honest,” she concluded.

“I prioritize fitness for my mind, for relieving stress, for being a better parent. That’s all I know … a healthy body and a healthy mind. That’s what I live by.

“As an advocate for sport and as someone who believes in the power of sport well beyond the Olympic playing field, I absolutely believe it is the unsung hero of mental health.”

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It’s time to rethink police wellness checks, mental health advocates say

Living with bipolar disorder for 25 years has led Bill Pringle to dark places. Along the way, he said he has gained insight into how police handle mental health crises and what needs to change in their approach.

The Saskatoon man has had eight suicide attempts, which sometimes included interacting with police officers.

Once, he was treated as though he had committed a crime. In another instance, he described police as having a reassuring effect. “The difference in training was very evident,” Pringle said.

During one of his earlier suicide attempts, years ago while living in Vancouver, he said the police “essentially accused me of attention-seeking and would not call an ambulance for me.”

Instead, Pringle said, he was handcuffed and taken to the hospital where he eventually overdosed, which resulted in him being ejected from the facility. “I have never really gotten past that incident,” he said.

But he credited Saskatoon police for being “calm and considerate” during a more recent suicide attempt. “They spent time with me while I was waiting for the ambulance to come. They even followed the ambulance to the hospital to make sure that I was safe and OK.” 

Police responses to mental health crises have come under scrutiny following the recent deaths of Ejaz Choudry, Chantel Moore, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and D’Andre Campbell, prompting demands to defund police. Canada’s largest psychiatric hospital, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, also called for police to be removed from leading “this important work.”

Pringle, who is the former chair of the National Council of Persons with Lived Experience, an advocacy group for people living with mental illness, said the deaths highlight a problem that, “desperately needs to be addressed.”

Though he agreed that police may be needed to attend certain mental health situations, he added, “I don’t think police should be the first line of response.”

Integrated mental health crisis teams more common

Police departments in Canada have received more training for dealing with people with mental illness than ever before, as noted by a 2014 report prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and do “a reasonable job.”

Most municipal police departments from Victoria to St. John’s also have some form of an integrated mental health crisis team, which partners police with mental health professionals to perform wellness checks, which are sometimes known as emotionally disturbed person calls.

In cities such as Hamilton, the use of teams has led to significant reductions of people being detained under mental health legislation.

WATCH | Mental health workers call for change in police wellness checks:

Mental health advocates, health-care providers call for changes to how emergency teams respond to wellness calls after at least four Canadians have been killed by police since April. 2:34

But many of these units don’t operate around the clock, or they’re brought into situations too late, and in the end it’s often the police who are in charge — and they’re not mental health experts despite recent training improvements.

Toronto psychiatric nurse Sarah Reynolds said integrated teams are “a great model” that could be used more frequently. 

Reynolds worked with the Toronto Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) alongside specially trained officers from the Toronto Police Service for 18 months. She said if there was ever any talk of a weapon or “an unstable situation” during a wellness check, police would quickly take over.

“The nurses could be far more effective if we were front and centre doing the major assessment, and having police as back up,” she said.

In 20 years of emergency room experience as part of a psychiatric team, Reynolds said she has regularly managed patients who she described as “psychotic.”

“I’ve taken knives away from people in the emergency room,” she said, adding “sometimes I feel people [in distress] react to the police presence, which can make them more aggressive or afraid.”

Reynolds said this is often the case in potential “suicide by cop” situations, which require “patience, skill and it takes health-care experts not police experts.”

Mental health ambulance instead of police

Indeed, Sweden’s capital Stockholm has tried to remove police from psychiatric emergencies altogether with the 2015 launch of a mental health ambulance.

The Psychiatric Acute Mobility Team (PAM), which is composed of nurses and paramedics, responds to crises such as suicide threats or severe behavioural issues much like a conventional ambulance.

A study of its first year of operation published in the International Journal of Mental Health found police were needed in  49 per cent of calls the team attended. However, the program’s manager told CBC News the ambulance cannot keep up with the demand for its services.

Sarah Reynolds, a psychiatric nurse who worked with Toronto police in a crisis intervention team, said mental health professionals should be given more responsibilities when responding to wellness checks. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Halifax-based mental health advocate and legal scholar Archibald Kaiser has long supported the exclusion of police from responding to mental health crises.

“When the police attend, they may well come with what I would call the wrong mindset, emphasizing law enforcement priorities over empathetic caring and human rights-respecting responses to people who are in crisis.”

Kaiser represented the Canadian Mental Health Association in the 1986 public inquiry into the police shooting death of Harold Lowe, an unarmed Halifax man with a long history of mental illness who had barricaded himself in his apartment after he stopped taking his medication.

“You know it’s just endlessly frustrating for me that the same tragic scenes get acted out again and again,” he said.

The Psychiatric Acute Mobility team operates this mental health ambulance in Stockholm, Sweden. (Annika Bremer/PAM)

Kaiser, a law professor at Dalhousie University cross-appointed to the school’s department of psychiatry, said altercations with police are often the result of a mental health care system that has failed people.

“It’s a deliberate choice to under invest in societal inclusion and provision of treatment, which is eminently correctable.”

Kaiser said people who have lived with mental illness should have a role in designing a system that better supports their needs, especially in times of crisis.

“Involve others, you know mental health professionals, legal professionals, and police service providers at the end rather than at the beginning,” he added.

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CBC | Health News

Canada’s largest mental health hospital calls for removal of police from front lines for people in crisis

Canada’s largest psychiatric facility is throwing its support behind mounting calls to remove officers from the front lines for people in mental health emergencies.

“It’s clear we need a new way forward,” the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto said Tuesday.

The move follows a string of deaths involving people in crisis, including Ejaz Choudry — a 62-year-old father of four with schizophrenia killed by police in Mississauga, Ont., after his family called a non-emergency line.

Choudry was the third Canadian in crisis to be killed by police over the past month. On June 4, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Eight days later, Rodney Levi, 48, was fatally shot by the RCMP in New Brunswick. The chief of his First Nation community later described him as troubled but not violent.

D’Andre Campbell, 26, was fatally shot in April in Brampton, Ont., after his family says he called 911 for help.

“For too long, the health-care system has relied on police to respond to mental health crises in the community,” CAMH said in its statement.

“Mental Health is health. This means that people experiencing a mental health crisis need health care.

“Police should not be first responders. Police are not trained in crisis care and should not be expected to lead this important work.”

Racism compounds crisis interactions, giving rise to the “tragic outcomes” Canada has seen recently, CAMH added.

In Toronto, mobile mental health teams consist of a registered nurse and police officer, but are mandated only to provide secondary responses. Police officers alone remain the first responders, particularly for calls involving a weapon.

WATCH | Ontario shooting death raises questions about sending armed officers to mental health calls:

Serious questions are being raised about sending armed police officers to respond to mental health crises after a Mississauga, Ont., man was shot to death over the weekend. The man’s family is now demanding a public inquiry, and the officer’s firing. 1:48

That was the case in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year old Black woman who fell to her death in Toronto after police were called to her home for reports of an assault involving a knife.

In the days afterward, police chief Mark Saunders said: “There’s no way I would send a nurse into a knife fight.”

Nearby Peel Region has a similar model: the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, launched in January, deploys from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. every day. But whether the teams serve as first responders or take a secondary role depends on the nature of the call, the force told CBC News. 

John Sewell, former Toronto mayor and now the co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, says his organization has called on the Toronto Police Services Board to have a mental health nurse paired with a plainclothes officer respond to calls for people in crisis.

At every turn, he says, he’s been met with resistance.

‘The result is that people get killed’

“The board has consistently refused and said we’ve got to send the armed, uniformed officers first,” he told CBC News. “Well, the result is that people get killed.”

As for the argument that armed officers are needed because a situation might be violent, Sewell says trained mental health professionals handle such situations regularly and are trained in de-escalation — something that police aren’t primarily trained to do.

John Sewell, a former Toronto mayor and now the co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, has been at the forefront of a push to restructure the system responding to people in crisis. (CBC)

“When someone has had experiences with people in uniform that involved in some way being restrained or tackled… there might be a certain amount of scar tissue so to speak when they’re put into a similar situation,” said David Gratzer, staff psychiatrist at CAMH, emphasizing the vast majority of people with mental health issues are not violent.

“Mental health professionals deal with agitated patients frequently and they understand that certain techniques can be highly successful.”

Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of Toronto’s police board from 2005 to 2015, says he was encouraged to see more mobile crisis units added during his time there, but says the program falls short because they don’t operate around the clock and aren’t designated as first responders.

“That’s where we hit a road block,” he said.  

Board ‘willing to explore’ other models

Of the nearly one million phone calls Toronto police receive every year, about 30,000 are mental health related, the force has said. Across Canada, from 2000 to 2017, a CBC News investigation previously found, 70 per cent of the people who died in police encounters struggled with mental health issues, substance abuse or both.

In an email to CBC News, Toronto Police Services Board Chair Jim Hart said the board remains “very supportive” of the existing mobile crisis team program, but that it is “committed to working to explore enhancements of and alternatives to this concept.

“The board is also willing to explore and consider other models that would provide better service to those in our community experiencing mental health or addiction issues; these models may include these services delivered by mental health experts without police,” Hart said. 

Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Chantel Moore both died after police were called to do wellness checks on them. (Facebook)

All of the above cases are being investigated by the relevant police oversight agencies.

In a statement, the Peel Regional Police Board said while it couldn’t comment on individual cases, “these deaths are a tragic reminder that there is much work to be done,” adding that the incidents will inform the board’s work on key issues including community engagement, strategic planning and the upcoming budget.

As Ontario’s police watchdog has itself pointed out, however, officers at the centre of cases involving serious injury or death of civilians cannot be compelled to turn over their notes or participate in interviews with the Special Investigations Unit.

Some say that means the SIU itself lacks the teeth to fully investigate allegations of police wrongdoing.

Asked Tuesday if the province would consider amending the legislation, Jenessa Crognali, spokesperson for Ontario’s attorney general said the rules stem from “principles against self-incrimination.”

She said those rules will remain even after the current Police Services Act is replaced with the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, passed earlier this year.

As for whether police services being funded through taxpayer money means officers should be compelled to answer to an oversight body, Crognali did not answer. 

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‘Insecure’: Kendrick Sampson on His ‘Cathartic’ Portrayal of Mental Health Issues (Exclusive)

‘Insecure’: Kendrick Sampson on His ‘Cathartic’ Portrayal of Mental Health Issues (Exclusive) | Entertainment Tonight

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Kelly Hrudey brings awareness to mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

Former NHL goaltender and current Calgary Flames colour commentator Kelly Hrudey has never shied away from talking about mental health, and he is continuing to bring awareness to the important issue in an effort to help those struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social distancing measures and the current global health situation have increased the challenges faced by those suffering from mental illness, but Hrudey also pointed out that people are now dealing with new mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic.

The 59-year-old shared his thoughts and offered some advice amid the uncertain and unprecedented times.

“Whatever we’re all going through, don’t discount it; it’s real,” Hrudey said on Instagram Live with CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo on Friday. “Your feelings, your stress, your anxiety, your angst, it’s all real and we’ll get through it, but please talk to somebody about it.”

‘This affects all of us’

Hrudey opened up about his own challenges and concerns that have surfaced because of the pandemic, pointing out that it is normal to be struggling with mental health right now.

“This affects all of us, it really does,” Hrudey said. “I have some really good days, and I have some really terrible days trying to figure out what’s going to happen, not only in our lives but our kids’ lives, because financially everything is changed for them.”

WATCH | Kelly Hrudey opens up about mental health:

The broadcaster and former NHLer gets vulnerable and transparent about how self-isolating affects everyone’s mental health. 3:39

The issue of mental health is of personal importance to Hrudey, as his daughter, Kaitlin, has endured a battle with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder over the years. He said the topic is extremely important right now with so many people facing mental health challenges for the first time while in isolation.

“This is important to talk about because I doubt there is anybody out there that is sitting back and going ‘This is great. I’m fine, I’m OK with the time off.’ Nobody is feeling that way. We all feel alone at times, so this is a great conversation to have.”

Hrudey said he recently spoke with fellow Canadian mental health advocate Michael Landsberg about the situation people are currently dealing with.

“Michael talked to me about his depression and another person in his life that he loves that has the same thing as Kaitlin, and they were saying ‘Welcome to my world.’ So all of us now are new with this pandemic and going through a strange time, and that person is saying ‘That’s what I’ve been living with my entire life.'”

Making progress

Hrudey is happy to see an increasingly large number of people, including athletes, stepping up to shine a light on mental health​​​​​​. He views it as a sign of progress that reflects the message on his T-shirt that reads “It’s OK to not be OK.”

“I’m extremely proud of the work that everyone has done raising awareness for mental health issues,” Hrudey said. “Kaitlin went very public in 2013. We’re so proud of her and how strong she is.”

Hrudey acknowledged how far things have come regarding the openness toward conversations about mental health over the past 15 years, especially among males that might have previously felt shame and remained silent.

“This is so heartwarming to me that we can have this conversation and not be ridiculed,” Hrudey said. “Most people would say ‘What a step in the right direction.'”

‘We still need to be louder’

But Hrudey also made it clear that there is still a lot of work that has to be done in order to continue the progress that has been made.

“We still need to be louder,” Hrudey said. “We need to get governments to do more because it’s not right that people have to wait in line for six months to see somebody. Our governments at the federal level, provincial level, municipal level, they have to be willing to give resources so people don’t suffer.

“There are too many men and women out there who are suffering, and they shouldn’t be.”

Although Hrudey enjoyed a successful 15-year NHL career that included an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, he said bringing awareness to mental health ranks above everything else in his career.

“I’m really proud of my playing career, proud of my broadcasting career, but I think when it’s all said and done I’ll be most proud of the work my family and others have done in the field of mental health.”

ICYMI | Dan Carcillo discusses hockey culture:

Former NHL player Dan Carcillo says hockey culture silences players and protects abusers. 9:04

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Mental health task force created to provide aid for Canadian athletes during stoppage

Not being able to train regularly can not only affect the physical conditioning of high-performance athletes, but also impact their mental health.

Structure and routine were important components for athletes as they prepared for this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo. With gyms shuttered, pools closed and training facilities dark due to COVID-19, their normal lives have been turned upside down.

Not only has training been interrupted, so has social contact with fellow athletes and coaches. Having the Tokyo Games postponed a year added another layer of stress and confusion.

“In terms of motivation, in terms of isolation, in terms of anxiety . . . I think it has been a really challenging time for a lot of athletes, especially if they’re not getting access to the support that they need,” said Rosie MacLennan, a two-time Olympic gold medallist in trampoline.

“For a lot of us, something that is so significant in our daily life has been taken away. Also, that goal that was four months away is all of a sudden 16 months away. And while there’s clarity and a date, there’s not much clarity for a lot of athletes on how they’ll qualify or when they’ll be able to train normally again.”

To answer the questions and concerns of high-performance athletes, a mental health task force has been created involving several of Canada’s major Olympic sport groups.

“The group has really been put together to asses the needs and do some strategy and planning around the different things that are required,” said Dr. Karen MacNeill, a psychologist who has worked at Olympic Games as the lead mental health counsellor for the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Groups involved in the task force include the COC, Canadian Paralympic Committee, the various national sports organizations, the Canadian sports institutes spread across the country, and Game Plan, an athlete wellness program designed for national team athletes.

“One of the biggest things is consistency and alignment and communication,” MacNeill said.

WATCH | Kylie Masse more appreciative of her sport during stoppage:

The Canadian Olympic swimmer told CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo that she feels even more appreciation for the sport now that she’s physically not able to swim. 2:24

Frank van den Berg, a mental performance consultant with the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary, said there are mental repercussions from not being able to train regularly.

“Through exercise, endorphins are released into the bloodstream,” van den Berg said. “It helps us feel better. It may also kind of ward off some anxious thoughts.

“It may have some positive effect on how we look at ourselves, our self-esteem or how we think about ourselves.”

‘Getting those endorphins going again’

Swimmer Brent Hayden retired after winning a bronze medal in the 100-metre freestyle at the 2012 London Games. He remembers the withdrawal he felt from a lack of training.

“My wife would tell you that my mood changed and I was not a pleasant person to be around for a while,” said Hayden, who has come out of retirement and hopes to compete in Tokyo next year.

“How I combatted that was getting back into the gym on a regular schedule and just getting those endorphins going again, so my brain chemistry was back to what it used to be.”

Athletes dealing with closed facilities and social distancing must reset their expectations and goals, van den Berg said.

“It’s like when an athlete is injured and is not able to do what (they’re) normally doing,” he said.

“The emphasis needs to be on maintenance of fitness and taking care of your body in good ways. The emphasis and focus should not be on getting stronger or peaking for competitions, because they’re not there. Everyone needs to kind of tone it down but stay active and take care of their body in different ways.”

Mental fitness

MacNeill said one of the messages being impressed on athletes is “controlling the controllables.”

“Of course, you’re feeling down,” she said. “Of course, you’re feeling sluggish. That’s part of it.”

Athletes are being urged to train the best they can at home. They can find social contact by doing virtual workouts online with teammates.

MacNeill even encourages athletes to treat the current situation as training for coping with problems they might face in competitions.

“There’s no better training ground right now because there’s uncertainly, because there’s unpredictability, because there’s stress, to build your resilience and mental fitness,” she said.

MacLennan said the program has been valuable.

“They’re continually expanding what they have to offer. A lot of athletes are making use of the program and I think it’s hugely critical.”

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Why medical assistance in dying must treat mental and physical illness equally

This column is an opinion by John Scully, a former CBC, CTV and BBC journalist. He suffers from depression, general anxiety disorder and PTSD (from covering 36 wars), and has attempted suicide twice. He wants to see the option of medical assistance in dying (MAID) offered to those with mental illness. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

It’s a clear case of basic human rights: the mentally ill must be treated as equals to the physically ill.

On Monday, the federal government tabled a proposed amendment to Canada’s medical assistance in dying (MAID) legislation. According to the Department of Justice, “This Bill would retain all existing eligibility criteria, but would remove the requirement for ‘reasonable foreseeability of natural death.’ It would also expressly exclude persons suffering solely from mental illness.”

A statement from the department adds, “eligibility for persons suffering solely from mental illness … could be considered during a broader parliamentary review of MAID legislation expected to begin by June 2020.”

This proposed legislation ignores the fact that some with mental illness suffer terrible pain, even though it’s a different pain, and modern psychiatric medicine has few or no answers. It doesn’t have a pill that’ll stop you from wanting to kill yourself. It struggles to stop the incessant, unrelenting brain pain of severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other life-threatening mental illnesses.

For many of us, pills are a miserable flop, as are shock therapy and its memory annihilation, other electronic interventions, even holistic treatments like acupuncture or Omega 3 supplements. Talk therapy sometimes offers relief. But a cure? Nowhere on the horizon.

So what’s left? For some of us, death. And yet, even in death, those with mental illness in Canada are denied a voice.

A 43-member panel assembled by the Council of Canadian Academies advised the federal government with recommendations on three levels of Medical Assistance in Death, one of which includes the still-illegal MAID for the mentally ill. In an earnest and responsible foreword to the three reports, the Council extolled the breadth of the expertise of the panel members: “The CCA was mindful of the need to gather abundant expertise for this project: we invited specialists with clinical, legal, and regulatory expertise to the table; we sought authoritative scholars and practitioners from the fields of law, medicine, nursing, mental health, bioethics, anthropology, and sociology; and we included input from Indigenous elders.”

Great, inclusive list, eh? But would I cast my fate to this group’s whims? No way. The elitism implicitly demonstrated by the Council is, if I may use what I think is an apposite cliché, another nail in the coffin of progress for the mentally ill.


Take a look at that list again. Notice who’s NOT on this life-or-death panel. Not one person with a mental illness. Not one caregiver. Not one loved-one who has seen the torture endured by their kin.

The federal government has unveiled its plans to expand access to medically assisted dying after public consultations.  2:01

The hubris of many mental health professionals is profound. Frightening. They demonstrate a distressing ignorance not just of those of us who suffer from mental illness, but of mental illness itself.

Many on the panel averred that loss of hope is merely temporary and can be restored over time, which defies reality. Loss of hope when you’re suffering cruelly and there is no cure is a terminal knell. That’s what depression does. That’s why people kill themselves.

I’ve known at least five souls who lost hope. And with hope so went their dignity and their reason to live. Daryl couldn’t get a job, the rejection gutted him. He was bipolar and very sick. No-one could ease his pain. No-one, no treatment, could give him any hope. Daryl took his own life.

If you’re thinking about suicide or are concerned about someone, there are people you can talk to:

  • In an emergency situation, dial 911
  • Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566, text 45645, chat at crisisservicescanada.ca
  • In French, Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868, chat at kidshelpphone.ca

Utter loss of hope, dignity, and self-esteem are not clinical aberrations. They cannot, must not, be cavalierly dismissed as “easily treated conditions.”

They’re brutal realities of the viciousness of depression. And they defy the pious assertions of academics and panels and medical journals.

It’s not for their own amusement that psychiatrists sugar-coat incurable refractory depression as “treatment-resistant depression.” No. They do it because it means they’re at the end of the road for their pills, potions, chatter, and zapping. There’s nothing left.

In its statement on assisted dying legislation and mental illness, CAMH asserts that for those with proper treatment for mental illness, ‘there is always the hope of recovery.’ (David Donnelly/CBC)

Of course, most refuse to admit this unpalatable and potentially deadly fact, because it exposes their helplessness.

In its Jan. 27 submission to the Department of Justice on the consultations around MAID, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) alludes to what many say is necessary – a painstaking approach to considering the implications of MAID for people with mental illness by all those involved, especially government and academics.

But in its statement on assisted dying legislation and mental illness, it reaffirms that false assertion that “there is always the hope of recovery.”

This point is appended by an expert at the National Institutes of Health. In a 2017 panel discussion co-hosted by CAMH, he said that for those with mental illness, with proper treatment, the desire to end one’s life may abate.

May? How very scientific. 

Those who oppose MAID for those with mental illness on these grounds are saying that when there’s no hope of relieving the suffering, we’ll pretend just the opposite — duplicity and pretence instead of the incontrovertible truth. This patient has the need and should have the right to die, but we medical gods aren’t gonna do it. Our oath says “Do no harm,” so we can’t unless it’s a terminally ill cancer patient — then it’s okay, that shows compassion.

The mentally ill? We’d like to, but it’s not the same.

So no compassion, no relief — unless the sufferer is then forced to die by suicide. This is one of the most undignified ways of dying, with botched attempts, finality by often brutal methods like guns and ties and trains, followed by shock and intolerable pain for unprepared loved ones.

That’s the reality of denying MAID for the mentally ill.

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