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Slow economy driving mental health issues

Mental health problems in St. Albert have increased as a result of the economic downturn, say local health authorities.

Mental health problems in St. Albert have increased as a result of the economic downturn, say local health authorities.

“I definitely have seen an increase in things like marital stress based on someone’s job loss or someone’s income has dropped or they’ve had to sell their toys,” said Lisa Duncan, a mental health co-ordinator with the St. Albert & Sturgeon Primary Care Network.

Mental health issues have been growing since the real estate market started to sour about a year ago, Duncan said. It’s part of a common pattern in health care: poor economic times put added stress on relationships that may already be suffering, leading to breakdowns, she said.

While people from all walks of life and age groups are being affected, Duncan has noticed that a number of people in their 20s are struggling because they’ve never dealt with a downturn before.

“Life hits them hard now because they have to compete for jobs,” Duncan said. “They’re feeling more stress as they realize they have to apply themselves a little more fully.”

The primary care network assesses patients referred by family doctors and helps them find further help, which can include psychologists, credit counselling or organizations that deal with domestic violence.

The increase in mental health problems is translating to very busy times at the St. Albert Stop Abuse In Families (SAIF) Society, which helps families cope with domestic violence. The agency has had to hire another part-time counsellor but is still booking three weeks in advance rather than the usual one, said project co-ordinator Doreen Slessor.

Of particular concern is the situations they’re handling are more volatile than in the past.

“We’re more concerned that it could escalate to very serious injuries or even deaths in some situations,” Slessor said.

A year ago, the agency was seeing issues arising from lifestyles of excess and indulgence. Now, cases are happening because people are losing jobs, employers aren’t hiring and counselling services are busy. All these factors make it harder for a woman to leave an abusive situation, she said.

It’s normal for the agency to see an increase in January and February, when credit card bills for Christmas purchases come in.

“It didn’t slow down after that,” Slessor said. “We just saw it get progressively more.”

The organization funds its counselling program through community donations.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had the donations but if it keeps up the way it is, we might not be able to sustain the counselling hours needed,” Slessor said.

Family doctor Darryl LaBuick also said he’s seeing more issues arising from people suffering layoffs, having their jobs shortened or their businesses not thriving.

“That’s coming out in mental health issues of depression [and] anxiety,” he said.

“There’s been a bit of trickle that started probably in the late fall, early winter and has continued to steadily climb.”

He’s starting to see an “accumulation of challenges.”

“We have people that are experiencing financial stress, layoffs … and of course, the government is also doing the same thing so they are not able to offer as many supportive programs,” LaBuick said.

The province spends more than $660 million a year on mental health services, said Health and Wellness spokesperson Michelle Hagen. She had no information about whether government support is being scaled back.

“Government recognizes that mental illness continues to have a profound effect on society and we’re continuing to ensure that mental health remains a priority,” she said.

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