A groundbreaking mental health clinic to serve low-income and under-served Nova Scotians is up and running in south-end Halifax.
“Our partnership with Dalhousie and the new (Dalhousie) Centre for Psychological Health is giving Nova Scotians a new place to get the mental health care they need and at the same time we are testing a new way to deliver that care,” Brian Comer, minister responsible for the Office of Addictions and Mental Health, said Tuesday at the grand opening of the Fenwick Street centre.
“Mental health and addictions care is health care,” Comer said. “The care you get should be based on the care you need, not based on if you can pay.
“Back in 2021, the government made a commitment to Nova Scotians, one that has never been made before anywhere in Canada, universal mental health and addictions care, building a health-care system where every Nova Scotian has access to the health and addictions care that they need, no matter when, no matter where, no matter what issue we’re facing and, most importantly, whether they can pay.”
In his work as a mental-health nurse before getting involved in politics, Comer said he heard too many times that people didn’t get needed care because it cost too much.
“That is why the work of the team at Dalhousie Centre for Psychological Health is so very important,” Comer said. “They are going to act like a private clinic but none of their clients will receive a bill. What their clients will receive is the care that they need when they need it the most, and if they need more substantial care or different care, they will be referred to someone who can provide that care.”
The province is investing $4.5 million over three years to fund the centre, which will be run as a pilot project.
Clients will be referred to the centre by community organizations and local health clinics.
The centre is intended to serve Nova Scotians who face barriers to getting mental health services and adds to the list of publicly funded services that are available to Nova Scotians at no cost.
Services will be provided by Dalhousie clinical psychology PhD students under the supervision of registered clinical psychologists.
Seven part-time and two full-time registered clinical psychologists currently work at the clinic, which unofficially opened on the third floor of the Fenwick Medical Centre building in June.
Thirty to 40 clinical psychology PhD students are expected to cycle through the clinic annually under the co-direction of Dr. Shannon Johnson and Dr. Alissa Pencer, both registered psychologists and faculty members in the Dalhousie’s psychology and neuroscience department.
Johnson said the centre, which has been in the works through behind-the-scenes planning for the past two years, will play a significant role in supporting the community and the education of Dalhousie graduate psychology students.
“Years of the pandemic have reinforced the importance of managing our mental health but it’s also made clear the difficulties in accessing mental health,” Johnson said. “The centre will provide service for low-income and under-served clients and will uitilize an equity based approach to services.
“We are already working closely with community partner organizations to identify individuals in need of the services we provide. These relationships with community organizations will provide the foundation for reaching and supporting Nova Scotians who need mental health care.”
Johnson said the centre will greatly expand training opportunities for PhD students.
“Consistent with other Dalhousie-based clinics, the Centre for Psychological Health is a training clinic,” she said. “For us, this means that the majority of services will be delivered by our students under the supervision of registered psychologists.”
Johnson said Dalhousie’s accredited program trains students to become scientists and practitioners, teaching them to deliver evidence-based mental health services and to evaluate the services provided.
She said to become practising psychologists students requires 1,000 hours or more of clinical training through practicum placements at hospitals, community mental health clinics and private practices.
“We recognize an important gap in clinical training over the years, namely that students have limited opportunities to work with clients from marginalized and under-served populations,” she said. “Our students are eager to support diverse clients and to build their knowledge and experience with people from a range of backgrounds and identities.”
Patrick Hickey, in his second year of the Dalhousie clinical psychology PhD program, said completing his first training practicum at the new centre over the summer allowed him to do just that.
“This new training opportunity allows us clinical psychology graduate students to make significant contributions to our local community by providing free psychological services to Nova Scotians who would often otherwise not be able to access such mental health and addiction support,” Hickey said.
“The goals and priorities of the centre allow us to serve members of marginalized and under-represented communities and provide a high-quality and unique training opportunity for all students in our program.”
Hickey said after only one summer he can already see the impact the centre is having by making psychological support “more accessible, comprehensive and timely” for clients.
Comer said the centre is expected to serve 200 to 300 clients.
Findings from this pilot project, along with community consultations and feedback from experts in the field, are intended to be used to establish a universal mental health and addictions system.