Montreal Doctor Advocates for Better Mental Health Support Following Tragic Loss

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In the wake of her brother’s tragic suicide in April, a Montreal doctor has boldly raised her voice against the increasing challenges hindering access to psychological care in Quebec. The story unveils as the province confronts escalating wait times for mental health services, a trend amplified in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Dori Shiff paints a vibrant picture of her brother, Dan Shiff, “an incredibly intelligent and witty individual, gregariously outgoing, an avid motorcycle rider and a passionate pilot with an insatiable thirst for travel.” Beneath this zest for life, however, Dan battled severe depression and substance abuse problems, eventually reaching a point of suicidal ideation.

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In early April, seeking help, he tried to admit himself to a psychiatric ward in Montreal. Yet, on arrival at the already congested emergency room, he was met with the grim reality of an overburdened health service. Unavailability of beds in the psychiatric unit resulted in a nearly two-week stay in the emergency department. After an agonizing wait, feeling hopeless, Dan decided he was no longer suicidal and left the hospital. Merely three days later, he succumbed to his mental health struggles, ending his life at the age of 49.

In the midst of global turmoil intensified by the pandemic, Dr. Perry Adler, a psychologist, reinforces the stark increase in mental health issues with health systems including that in Quebec staggering behind. According to data from the Fraser Institute, Quebec residents faced extended treatment wait times after visiting a specialist in the preceding year.

Fast forward to 2021, statistics revealed a median wait time of about 12 weeks, making it the swiftest in Canada, alongside British Columbia. A year later, the wait time doubled, obligating patients to wait for treatment for an alarming six months, the longest in the country. Dr. Adler points a finger at decades of underfunding of the province’s mental health sector by various governments.

Both Shiff and Dr. Adler acknowledge the necessity for the government to allocate more funding to mental health, to ensure adequate resources are available for those in desperate need. Federal data reveals one in 10 Canadians harbors suicidal thoughts during their lifetime, but a sizable portion remains hesitant to seek help.

Adler argues that seeking help is not tantamount to admitting weakness but instead, a significant display of strength. Signs such as resignation, lack of appetite, self-isolation, or attempts to find closure with loved ones could signal suicidal ideation. Corrie Sirota, a psychotherapist with expertise in grief and loss, encourages direct, honest conversations about suicidal thoughts.

Sirota alongside other experts insist on reframing the societal perception of suicide, not as a conscious choice but a symptom of an underlying disease much like a tumour or heart attack. Shiff recalls the rabbi at her brother’s funeral candidly attributing Dan’s death to a “heart attack of the brain,” a statement that helped her understand suicide as not a decision but a debilitating disease.