Bullying & Cyberbullying: does it begin at home?

The news this morning shared yet another report discussing the pitfalls of corporal punishment:


Already, by 8:30 a.m. on the radio, earnest discussions and protests arose.  “Kids need discipline.”  “Physical punishment is necessary – like when my daughter hit another child.”  “Society is getting too soft.”

I wager every parent has done something to their child that they regret – unintentional or “for a good reason.”  When parents protest against the suggestion they stop hitting their children, it is natural to experience stress and tension (the official term is “cognitive dissonance”).  Everyone knows that hitting is wrong and nearly everyone needs to keep up the belief that they are good people.  So, how do they reconcile hitting (especially a child) with that view?

Here’s another example:  everyone knows smoking is bad for you.  Anyone who smokes has to reason their way out of that fact while maintaining their belief that they aren’t doing themselves any harm (or at least not much, what’s one cigarette?  At least I smoke filters.  My brand is low-tar.  I used to smoke way more. . .)

Most of the protests I heard this morning were callers justifying the use of corporal punishment.  My question is: whom are they trying to convince?  The radio audience or themselves?

What does this have to do with bullying & cyberbullying?  Let me answer this question by posing another:  if children are taught (by example) that physical force is the solution to problems and, on top of that, is “good for them” or and the adult’s “only alternative,” are we surprised when they carry that lesson into their peer relationships?

If you are experiencing discomfort now, maybe I’ve provoked some cognitive dissonance?  Take heart – you are not a bad person and you can use other, much more effective ways to discipline.  Kids function best when parents have firm expectations but are responsive.  Unfortunately, physical methods have unwanted side effects and, it’s true, don’t work as well over the long term.  CONSISTENT and MILD consequences work best, along with praise for good behaviour.  Yes, kids will still misbehave at times – that’s how they learn the boundaries of right and wrong.  Contrary to the old saying, kids now do come with an owner’s manual.  Four of my favourites appear at the end of this post.

Spanking used to be a common method of behavioural control.  However, we are entering a new era – violence of all sorts is discussed openly and community standards are shifting away from coercive force to influence each other.  Women and children are no longer considered “property” of their family, to be dealt with however their owners see fit.  Even violence among men is losing credibility and becoming less common (there’s another blog!).

This shift in attitudes among the wider society is part of why spanking now differs from spanking then.  Those who continue to support it are a shrinking minority who feel increasing pressure to “do something” instead of “not do something,” especially when the school calls to say little Johnny is suspended for fighting on the playground.

People who support the use of physical punishment, because they feel backed into a corner when news stories like today’s appear, tend to re-double their arguments for the practice.  It’s not because they’re bad people, just the opposite – they want to feel like their use is justified and morally correct.  But short-term reasons supporting corporal punishment mask the longer-term pitfalls: kids who are less socially competent and turn to physical force outside the home.






ARCH works routinely with families and parents to adopt more effective strategies.  Give us a call!  Or look up parenting programmes in your area.

Posted in Bullying, Spanking | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Is it really ADHD or LD? They say my child is “fine,” but I can’t help but feel something is up.

Stumbled across this article recently.  Voices the frustrations (but ultimate relief!) that many parents & smart-but-struggling students face:


An experienced and compassionate teacher can usually sum up what the usual psychoeducational assessment covers.  This is why many assessments don’t garner many results.  Our work stands out because:

* we don’t under-interpret the data – we put that information to work!  We know how to look for key patterns and have advanced knowledge of other conditions.  Measures of reasoning ability and achievement become a gold mine!

* we follow up on important clues with advanced measures.  In some jurisdictions, the “plain vanilla” learning assessment doesn’t qualify students for accommodations; in-depth follow-up is mandatory.  We use those same stringent methods here.  This sheds light on _why_ a student is struggling, not just documenting _where_ they are struggling.  Examples of such advanced measures: tools to assess various types of memory, phonological processing, or executive functioning (planning & organization – the “boss” of the brain).

* we specialize in complex cases.  We can tell the difference between LD, ADHD, both, or neither.  Sometimes, a verbal memory problem presents as inattention.  Only follow-up testing can tell for sure.

* our expertise in psychopharmacology helps make you an informed consumer.  Although many are not keen on the idea of medication, we can give you a straightforward look at the options.  Then, you can make an informed choice whether to seek or decline such intervention.  Meds are not always the answer.

* we know what works & what offers a lot of hope but not much else.  Unfortunately, some of the most popular “solutions” (the ones often touted on TV & the Internet) are flimsy sales pitches, not based in reality.

* we understand that schools and parents may not see eye-to-eye.  Schools often complain that parents aren’t doing enough or little Johnny “isn’t living up to his potential.”  Parents often complain that no one is listening to their concerns and feel they have nowhere to turn.  Let us offer an alternative that puts kids first.

Give us a ring.  Let us help you decide how to finally “get to the bottom of this.”

Posted in assessment, learning | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Cyber Porn Addiction

Tami-lee Duncan is launching a CyberPorn Addiction treatment program at ARCH Psychological Services. Individual and marital consultations and interventions are available. A group is planned. We’ll be providing more information over the coming weeks but for now we’d like to share some facts about the extent of the problem. For more information please call Tami-lee Duncan 780-428-9223

Statistics on Pornography Use in North America


  • 72 Million unique visitors access adult websites per month, worldwide.
  • In 2006 there were over 420 million web pages devoted to pornography.
  • 60% of all websites are sexual in nature.
  • 12% of total websites (4.2 million) are explicitly pornographic (2006).
  • 25% of total daily search engine requests (68 million) are for pornography.
  • 8% of daily emails are pornographic or sexual in nature.
  • Hollywood releases 11,000 adult movies per year- 20 times mainstream movie production.
  • Every second – $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography.
  • Every second – 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography.
  • Every second – 372 internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines.
  • Every 39 minutes: a new pornographic video is being created in the United States.
  • In 2006, there were 100,000 webpages that offered illegal child pornography.


  • In 2006 Canada’s pornography revenue was $1 Billion dollars, which averages to $30.21 per person each year.
  • The pornography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink.
  • Porn revenue is larger than all combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises. The pornography industry, according to conservative estimates, brings in $57 billion per year, of which the United States is responsible for $12 billion.


  • In 2006, 42.7% of internet users view pornography.
  • 40 Million adults in the United States visit porn sites regularly.
  • 77% of online visitors to adult sites are male. The average age is 41 and 46% are married. 50% are actively religious.
  • 17% of all women struggle with porn addiction.
  • 1/3 of all visitors to adult websites are women.
  • Those making more than $75,000 a year represent 35 percent of those purchasing pornography. Another 26 percent of pornography consumers make $50,000-75,000 per year.
  • Age is not a major factor. Pornography consumers are fairly evenly divided. The 35 to 44-year-old age group consume the most pornography in the United States (26 percent) and 18-24-year-olds purchase the least (14 percent).
  • 10% of adults admit to an internet sexual addiction.
  • 20% of men say they access pornography at work.
  • 13% of women surveyed in 2006, admitted to using pornography at work.
  • 44% of workers admitted to accessing X-rated sites while at work.
  • 70% of female users keep their cyber activities a secret.
  • 34% of people received unwanted exposure to sexual material.
  • The average age of first internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old.
  • The largest consumers of internet pornography are users age 35-49 years old.
  • Almost 80% of 15-17 year olds will have multiple exposures to hard-core pornography.
  • 90% of 8-16 year olds will have viewed porn online, most will doing homework or recreational web browsing.
  • Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex or affairs.

Risks and Consequences Associated with Pornography

  • 30% of companies surveyed had terminated employees due to accessing porn at work.
  • 42% of surveyed adults stated that their partner’s use of pornography made them feel insecure and less attractive.
  • In 2006, 47% of Christians said that pornography is a problem in their home.
  • Incidents of child sexual exploitation have risen from 4,573 in 1998 to 112,083 in 2004, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
  • 40% of adults surveyed believe that pornography harms relationships between men and women.
  • According to pastors, the 8 top sexual issues damaging to their congregation are: 57% pornography addiction, 34% sexually active never-married adults, 30% adultery of married adults, 28% sexually active teenagers, 16% sexual dissatisfaction, 14% unwed pregnancy, 13% sexually active previously married adults, and 9% sexual abuse.
  • 23% of American adults believe “whether one likes it or not people should have full access to pornography under the Constitution’s First Amendment.”


  • Internet consumers are most likely to search for the terms “sex,” “adult dating,” and “adult DVD”.
  • The top 20 search terms also include “teen sex,” “teen porn” and “sex ads.”
  • Statistics indicate the term “sex” was searched for as often by female consumers as it was by males.
  • Men performed 97 percent of the searches for the term “free porn.”
  • Websites often link the names of children’s cartoon characters with pornographic web searches. Examples include Pokemon and Action Man.





No Consensus Among American Public on the Effects of Pornography on Adults or Children or What Government Should Do About It, Harris Poll, 7 October 2005. www.harrisinteractive.com

Internet Pornography and Loneliness: An Association? Vincent Cyrus Yoder, Thomas B. Virden III, and Kiran Amin.  Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, Volume 12.

Posted in Addictions, compulsive behaviors, Mental Health | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Bullying & Cyberbullying Follow-up – More about What Works

We’re getting lots of feedback on earlier posts – the encouragement is much appreciated!

Here are two recent articles expanding on the theme of bullying & the debate about what to do about it:

1. Bullying, according to a large poll, is the 4th most common fear among parents.  More about what schools and parents can do – what really works:  http://www.babycenter.com/0_top-5-parenting-fears-and-what-you-can-do-about-them_3656609.bc?page=4   (Other 4 topics also very interesting.)

2. Is the Internet a haven or a dark alley?  Do youth “hang out” online because they can’t bike around the neighbourhood until supper?  A cultural study of teens online & some who conclude that us grown-ups should relax a bit – do you agree?

Parents’ worries misplaced, expert says – Pamela Paul, Globe & Mail, 24 Jan 2012



Posted in Adolescence, Well-being | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders – Some Surprising Opportunities

As you’ve likely heard, alcohol use during pregnancy is risky for the developing baby.  In Alberta, a baby is born every day with brain damage due to alcohol exposure in the womb.  In Canada, it costs $1.8 million dollars to support just one individual with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).  In too many cases, 10% of these costs are through the criminal justice system.  Less than 1 in 4 will show the characteristic facial features associated with FASD (this may only occur if alcohol is ingested on days 19, 20, or 21 of pregnancy).

FASD is the #1 environmental cause of developmental disability in the world.  The good news?  It is 100% preventable.  But how?

The U.S. has warning labels on alcohol.  However, like warnings on cigarettes, unless these are updated frequently, people tend to get used to them.  Also, the people who need to see them most are least likely to see them often.  Also, without some sort of support materials or programming, warning labels alone are not very effective.  (Ditto for billboards or other print materials – they need to be coupled with screening or other materials to work.)  Light drinkers may listen, but heavy drinkers (who see the labels more often) tend not to cut down or quit.

Although public awareness is helpful & often shows an increase in knowledge about the problem, it doesn’t work well to change what people do.  In the case of FASD, it doesn’t seem to translate into fewer pregnant (or soon-to-be pregnant) women curbing their drinking.  Why?

Research shows that medical professionals send mixed messages – some actually encourage women to have a drink if it “calms their nerves.”  Many people don’t consider beer, wine, or wine coolers to be “real” alcohol.  Many know someone who drank during pregnancy (or they did, themselves) and had a baby who was “fine.”

Women who are least likely to drink while pregnant (or who quit as soon as they discover they are pregnant) are more likely unmarried, younger, and ethnically diverse.

Interestingly, there are two types of women who tend to drink while pregnant – one is no surprise, but the other might be.  The first group is women who are living in difficult circumstances: poverty, abusive relationships, depression, unemployment, overwhelmed by life and seeing little escape.  Programmes to prevent FASD in this group work best if they provide tangible mentoring, offer birth control while the women receives treatment, and find out why they drink (instead of just preaching for them to stop).

The second group might surprise you: women over thirty with successful careers.  This group tends to have six or more drinks per week, usually while they socialize.  It may seem normal to drink and the focus of most of their social activity.  They (and their peers who watch them consume alcohol) may figure that they don’t fit the stereotype of an FASD mom – because prevention efforts often highlight the underpriviledged or Aboriginal communities (rates here are particularly high, unfortunately), it may be tempting to conclude that well-off or non-Aboriginal women are not at risk.  Many figure “one drink won’t hurt.”  Unfortunately, no amount is guaranteed safe, even if you sip.

Gentlemen – this one’s for you: whether a woman’s partner drinks is a strong predictor of whether she will, too.  Plan social activities that don’t revolve around drinking.  Share a mocktail with your gal (see recipes below).  Offering her a fun fizzy beverage is a great way to show you care.  And she’ll love that you care about the baby & helping her to be a mom, too.

Friends – talk to each other about committing to “mama to be – no drink for me.”  Offer alternatives to alcoholic beverages at social occasions like book club or ladies night out.

Mamas to be (or maybe you’re not sure?  Missed a period?) – None is best, regardless of the free pass your physician dealt out.  If you are in your first trimester, but want to keep your pregnancy under wraps, choose a non-alcoholic drink & blame it on a headache, cold medication, or being the designated driver.  Empower yourself to have fun in other ways.

Canadian pop icon Kim Mitchell sang, “might as well go for a soda – nobody hurts and nobody cries.”  Mocktail recipes (“sexy” but safe versions of a cosmo, mojito, martini, and sangria with added health benefits): http://www.sheknows.com/food-and-recipes/articles/805627/boozefree-beverages-four-cantmiss-mocktails

Valentine’s Day mocktails: http://www.squidoo.com/mocktail-recipes#module148169266

Mocktails for the foodie: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/drinking/cocktails/nonalcoholic_mocktails

Mocktails for every girlfriend occasion: http://www.girlfriendcelebrations.com/festive-features/mocktail-recipes-for-every-girlfriend-occasion/

Learn more about FASD’s effects:  http://www.whitecrowvillage.org/what_is_fasd.html

& home-grown Alberta supports: http://fasd.typepad.com/  or http://www.fasdconnections.ca/

Posted in Uncategorized, Well-being | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments

Aboriginal Perspective on Cyberbullying

Further to my note earlier this week, the Centre for Suicide Prevention is also offering cyberbullying materials, this time with an Aboriginal view:


Includes types of cyberbullying & practical tips & resources to prevent & address the problem at school & family levels.

Posted in Uncategorized, Well-being | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Bullying & Cyberbullying

Another prominent concern of today’s parent is bullying, especially that occurring online.  Like teen self-harm, many adults worry that their child or teen is a silent victim in a world of social networking, websites, and texts that anyone over 30 often hasn’t even heard of.  (I had to google “formspring.”)  ARCH has invited one of the world’s leading psychologists to share a link to his comprehensive presentation about bullying and cyberbullying.

Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Sattler is one of the most accomplished assessors, authoring the “bible” of child assessment and helping to revise likely the most famous intelligence test in the world.  He has high standards for precision with an equal emphasis on the human aspect of assessment – compassion, respect, and “rolling with” events as they unfold.

Dr. Sattler’s bullying presentation is another example of his commitment to improving quality of life for children and teens by putting knowledge into action.  It has tips for parents and teachers on monitoring, prevention, and action in the real world and the online world.  Visit our Resources page or click here: http://video.sdsu.edu/nas/capture/pgarsd/Sattler_-_Flash_(Large)_-_20111121_12.20.20PM.html
Please be patient while the presentation starts – it includes video from U.S. President Obama.

If you believe your child or teen could use help with bullying, feel free to contact us.  We offer comprehensive assessment, therapy, and consultation to families and schools.

Posted in Adolescence, Well-being | Tagged | 11 Comments

The costs of not dealing with mental health… the benefits of dealing with it…


George Lucki


The World Economic Forum based in Geneva, Switzerland typically concerns itself with macroenomic concerns related to gobal competitiveness, global risks, the future of financial institutions and similar issues. The forum also considers the economic dimensions of more directly social issues such as pensions or healthcare.

Recently the World Economic Forum released a report considering the Global Economic Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases.  Mental illnesses are not communicable diseases…  and their economic impact is staggering!

The evidence gathered is compelling. Over the next 20 years, NCDs will cost more than US$ 30 trillion, representing 48% of global GDP in 2010, and pushing millions of people below the poverty line. Mental health conditions alone will account for the loss of an additional US$16.1 trillion over this time span, with dramatic impact on productivity and quality of life.

By contrast, mounting evidence highlights how millions of deaths can be averted and economic losses reduced by billions of dollars if added focus is put on prevention. A recent World Health Organization report underlines that population-based measures for reducing tobacco and harmful alcohol use, as well as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, are estimated to cost US$ 2 billion per year for all low- and middle-income countries, which in fact translates to less than US$ 0.40 per person.

Wow! Dealing with tobacco, harmful alcohol use, and unhealthy diet all for far less than the cost of a daily cup of coffee… or a very tiny fraction of the cost of a consultation with your local physician or psychologist for that matter. Dealing with health care concerns of any sort is a huge undertaking compared with the potential benefits of prevention.

Mental health concerns alone account for over half of the global burden of all non-communicable diseases. What is $16.1 trillion? A staggeringly large amount of money. $16,100,000,000,000.00 – to put it in some perspective global health care spending is now just over $5 trillion. Spending on mental health of course is a small fraction of this…

Now if we were to put the economic loss in human terms. This year alone almost 1,000,000 people will have commited suicide across the world and over 150 million people suffered from depression. Approximately 200 million person-years of healthy life were lost to disabling mental health conditions – that is 200 million people last year were disabled, unable to work, severely impacted in relationships, lifestyle and health because of a mental health concern. What is even more relevant is that most of these conditions are curable or at least treatable.

WHO estimates that 25% of all patients using a health service suffer from at least one mental, neurological or behavioral disorder, most of which are undiagnosed or untreated. Further, there is a two-way relationship between mental illnesses and other chronic conditions: the existence of a different chronic condition (as well as HIV/AIDS) exacerbates the risk of developing a mental disorder, and vice versa. In addition to the lack of diagnosis and systematic mental health plans, mental illness suffers from societal stigma, constituting an immense barrier to treatment and access to services.

It seems pretty clear that we’re not tackling the problem effectively… and yet the problem is costly one for societies. The estimated impact of mental health conditions on lost productivity is estimated to be approximately 5% of global GDP! The impact of mental illnesses on lost economic output is greater than that of cardiovascular diseases, approximately twice that of cancer and many times greater than diabetes. Food for thought… treatable conditions, preventable human suffering, significant human and economic benefits addressing the problem – it seems so straightforward that you’d have to “be crazy” not to take urgent and comprehensive action.

Whether the decision makers focus on the direct human burden of suffering or the dollars lost in economic productivity – the numbers are there and are an urgent call to action. The solutions are also clear. In mental health it is an investment in the better management of chronic conditions, the early identification and prompt treatment of treatable conditions and the reduction of social stigma The last of these is particularly important. Depression, for example, is a treatable condition for which there are quite effective psychotherapeutic and pharmacological approaches. Estimates suggest that less than half of individuals who experience clinically significant depression seek help. Stigma and awareness, along with difficulties in access are the reasons.

So, let’s all take steps to raise awareness and advocate for what makes sense, and urge political, health and business leaders to take urgently needed action.


Posted in Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Teen Self-Harm: How to Have “the Talk”

Dr. Tanya Spencer

Over time and in different locations, the way people express distress differs and changes.  Self-harm (often referred to as “cutting”) seems to be gaining prominence among teens and young adults.  This naturally sparks a strong gut reaction, particularly for people who aren’t very familiar with it or why someone would turn to self-harm.

We all remember times we shielded our parents from upsetting or raunchy material, thinking that it was too intense or embarrassing for them or us.  Self-harm might fall into this category.  Although best estimates figure that only about 10% of youth use self-harm routinely, 80% of youth know someone who has tried it.  50% of kids have tried it.
(CASE study, over 30,000 youth surveyed in 7 countries).  Likely, today’s teens know more about it or realize it is rather widespread compared to their parent’s generation.  Self-harm is not an end in itself – most experts agree that other emotional problems (not all of which are considered diagnosable mental illness) are what drives this sort of coping.  No parent wants to imagine their child hurting themselves – we spend most of our efforts trying to protect them!  And how on earth could someone possibly think that injuring themselves is a good idea?

In the past ten years, researchers and helpers working with youth who self-harm have discovered some very consistent findings:

  • Self-harm is a way to cope with feelings that youth can’t bear to endure or can’t identify
  • It is very effective initially to soothe distress but those who use it habitually get trapped in a cycle they increasingly can’t control
  • Most self-harmers are either completely overwhelmed with feeling or feel numb or empty – both feel intolerable
  • Most self-harmers lack “emotional literacy”
  • They either never learned how to identify and express their feelings or they feel like others are denying their experience
  • Most self-harmers are intensely private about their self-injury – they avoid discovery and, after the initial rush of relief, they feel very ashamed, crazy, and embarrassed
  • Very few report wanting attention, though this is the #1 reason people around
    self-harmers jump to when trying to explain it
  • Most self-harm is directed at feeling alive, not wanting to die
  • Some use self-harm to stave off suicidal impulses
  • Self-harm doesn’t feel painful – it offers profound relief and a sense that the youth can carry on, at least at first
  • Self-harm affects both females and males
  • Although “cutting” is most common, anything that would ordinarily produce pain can be used
  • About ½ of self-harmers don’t seek help from anyone
  • Only 1 in 3 turn to friends or family
  • Only 1 in 5 turn to formal medical care
  • Formal medical caregivers are, unfortunately, notorious for punitive and rejecting responses, driving self-harmers underground and confirming their worst fears, which perpetuates the self-harm further

What are the best way to deal with the possibility of self-harm?

  • Be the first to mention the topic – even if your child seems “fine,” they likely know someone who self-harms
  • Youth go to great lengths to hide it, so often it is the one you least suspect
  • Asking about it won’t “put ideas in their head” or increase the urge to self-harm
  • Chances are, they will be relieved that someone cares and they aren’t as scary or dangerous as they feared
  • Be patient – some youth will reject early attempts at conversation, especially if
    they fear being discovered
  • Don’t ask someone who uses self-harm to stop
  • They lack healthy coping mechanisms, so taking this one away, as damaging and shocking as it seems, will likely only worsen their emotional distress and urge to
  • Keep your emotional reactions in check
  • Kids who receive calm and compassionate responses and offers of support (emotional and practical) stop self-harming sooner
  • Offer alternatives to self-harm
  • Distraction, other methods of emotional expression, stimulation (for those who are numbed out) or relaxation (for those who are overwhelmed emotionally
  • Enlist professional help
  • One person can rarely be both an emotional and practical support
  • A professional can tease out the “real” issues and screen for diagnosable mental illness, associated learning problems, or dysfunction in the youth’s broader social system
  • A professional can help sort out whether to involve other family or the school

ARCH’s self-harm tool-kit for parents and teachers (click on Resources) discusses these issues in more depth and offers concrete guidance to help you reflect on your reactions to self-harm, encourage compassion from caregivers, and on-the-spot access to 24-hour resources.


  • What is your family’s emotional literacy?
  • Why do I feel the way I do about self-harm?
  • How to plan “the talk” with your kids
  • How to relax – for adults or teens to relieve stress
  • What to ask when seeking professional services
  • How to contract with youth who self-harm
  • Where to turn for more information or instant help

Our team has extensive experience with youth mental health  and self-harm.  We use best practices and an holistic approach to provide  comprehensive and effective care.  Call or e-mail us to find out how we  personalize our services to fit your unique situation.  Individual and  family sessions, along with case consultation to schools and treatment
settings, are available.

Once we understand the “why” of self-harm, the healing can start.

Posted in Adolescence, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Alberta’s Mental Health Plans

George Lucki

For those who have followed the controversy regarding thetransfer of some services from Alberta Hospital Edmonton, it is clear that Albertans care about mental health issues. It is also clear that mental health issues are not political ones. We need good plans first and implementation second – not a process of implementation followed by planning – ready, fire, aim. I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Edmonton Journal on this subject.

George Lucki

Mental health care needs solid, sound plan

Edmonton Journal, January 21, 2010

Re: “Tories back down on Alberta Hospital bed closings; Only geriatric patients will be relocated, top health official says,” The Journal, Jan. 19.

Thank you, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky. It is time to close this chapter. Ready-fire-aim was not the best way to plan health services. Neither politics, nor special interests, nor focusing only on current budgets make for good mental health policy.

Both the decision to close Alberta Hospital Edmonton and the earlier decision to simply rebuild the facility were not driven by comprehensive plans. Even the AHE review process was not driven by a plan.

The decision to defer the future of AHE to the development of a provincial mental health plan is good. A comprehensive provincial mental health plan was developed and adopted within the last decade; it has yet to be implemented.

The order seems simple — plan first, then invest, finally restructure. Planning is good, but not enough. Committing to implementing plans over the long term is even better.

It is clear to mental health professionals, patients and family members, that programs must be improved. Mental health and addictions are areas where significant employer and privately funded services fill gaps in public services. Many individuals with serious and chronic conditions fall through these gaps and their unmet mental needs become issues of homelessness, policing and poverty.

Mental health and addictions services are still not fully integrated with health and social services, as though mind and body are not two parts of the same person. There are still considerable stigma and many people do not seek services for treatable conditions such as depression, which still tops the World Health Organization list of causes of disability worldwide. We can do much better as a society. That challenges us to both commit sufficient resources and do the right thing for people experiencing psychological disorders.

AHE is not closing, but as we look at what services people need, the role of AHE must be re-examined. It would be surprising to believe that the future of this or any hospital can simply be to continue to do what they have done in the past. The free-standing psychiatric hospital is a product of an earlier model of care. There are newer models of in-patient and outpatient care. Shifting to better models of care must be done responsibly. The earlier deinstitutionalization of patients from hospitals across North America, done without first creating adequate community treatment resources and social supports, was a terrible tragedy. We need to build the comprehensive system of care patients and families need first. What that means for the future of AHE remains to be determined. The goal is not saving a hospital. It is bigger. The goal is developing a better system of mental health care that does right by Albertans. The new health minister’s decision is the right next step.

George Lucki, psychologist and former chair, Alberta Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health, Sherwood Park

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal


Posted in Mental Health | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments