Liberal MLA David Swann is calling for major changes to be made in response to Alberta’s overburdened mental health care system.

Swann, who co-authored a 2015 report about valuing mental health in Alberta, insists much more must be done to identify mental health issues early on.

Swann, a physician himself, therefore calls for doctors to be trained differently.

“Family doctors are not adequately trained to deal with common mental health and addictions issues,” says Swann.

For this to change, family doctors must “work in teams with a social worker, a psychologist and other professionals.”

Swann is passionate about increasing the amount of time medical students focus on how to identify and treat mental health issues, as explored in his co-authored 2015 report.

Dr. Tyler Pirlot, the president of the Alberta Medical Association’s section of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, agrees with Swann.

“Just like any other medical illness, the earlier you treat, the better off we are right in terms of outcomes,” Pirlot states.

As a psychiatrist training medical students at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, Pirlot has personally seen the advantages that can be found with doctors being trained in how to identify and treat mental health and addictions issues.

“We’ve lengthened the amount of time [medical students] spend with us,” says Pirlot. “So, a decade ago, it was a half-day, and now it’s one week and sometimes they choose up to three weeks in child adolescent psychiatry.”

More time learning about child and adolescent psychiatry is vital, says Swann, who found “roughly 70 per cent of mental illness and addiction starts in childhood.”

If systems were put in place to work on identifying mental illness in youth, both physicians believe diagnosis and treatment could happen earlier in a patient’s life.

This means giving physicians more time to examine family history, and ensuring nurses, general practitioners and pediatricians can recognize the signs. Swann found that early intervention can be the key to both effective and less expensive treatment.

“Kids with emotional problems, behaviour problems, learning problems — if they don’t get those addressed early, they’re going to end up with lots and lots of needs for expensive health care and difficult emotional problems later,” explains Swann.

If you or anyone you know is in crisis, please reach out to one of these available resources:

● Canadian Mental Health Association 24 Hour distress line at 780-482-4357

● Speak with somebody with lived experience from the Canadian Mental Health Association either by phoning 403-297-1402 or emailing

● Phone the Calgary Counselling Centre at 403-691-5991 to register for counselling

● Contact the Distress Centre Calgary by phoning 403-266-4357 to complete intake for free, short-term, professional counselling.

● Dial 2-1-1 for access to community, social, and government based services.

Editor: Mariam Taiwo | 

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