Niagara creating new early mental health intervention positions
Funding for psychosis intervention will provide full-time nurse, support worker
A funding boost to create two new positions at Early Psychosis Intervention is a move St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik is calling a good news story.
The region’s health and social services committee voted to create positions for a full-time mental health nurse and a peer support worker with the Local Health Integration Network picking up the tab.
“There will be an impact on mental health and this is an example of what we are doing as a region,” Sendzik said. “This is an investment.”
Niagara Mental Health requested the funding increase backed by statistics that show Niagara’s Early Psychosis Intervention program has seen a 41 per cent increase in demand for service over the past five years and is operating at 224 per cent of its target capacity.
“These are positions that are going to be specifically allocated to the issue of psychosis,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the acting medical officer of health for Niagara Region. “Psychosis is a terribly debilitating condition. It’s the condition where people start to have delusions, hallucinations. It makes them incapable of functioning normally, having a regular job.
“When we talk about people with mental health issues, who may be homeless or living on the streets, it is often people who suffer from psychosis.”
The first few years carry the highest risk of serious physical, social and legal consequences, Hirji said. One in 10 people die by suicide with two-thirds of the deaths occurring within the first five years of the illness.
“The long-term lifespan is actually quite short for individuals with psychosis,” Hirji said. “What is really great about this early psychosis intervention program is that we identify people right after their first episode so they are early on in their illness progress and they haven’t really developed debilitating symptoms.
“We try to intervene at that stage so we can stabilize them when they still have high levels of functioning.”
The Early Psychosis Intervention is a service operated by Niagara Region Mental Health, a report the the committee said. The new positions will be able to handle an additional 1,000 client visits, or a 33 per cent increase in capacity, Hirji said.
The mental health nurse will cost $102,407, including benefits, while the peer specialist will cost $58,833 including benefits.
The positions also come with $7,500 to help with training and equipment.
The Early Psychosis Intervention Ontario Network estimates three per cent of the population experiences psychosis. The condition may include delusions, hallucinations, disordered thinking and bizarre behaviour.
Niagara Region Mental Health has been providing the early intervention service since 2005 with a team approach to treatment and care co-ordination. The team includes two mental health nurses, two social workers, an occupational therapist, and a consultant psychiatrist.
The team provides several clinics each month. With about 80 per cent of the services provided in the community at locations that are comfortable and convenient for the individuals served.
If the new positions are not created, the new funding would have to be returned to the health integration network, Hirji said.
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