It's hardly a day goes by that we don’t read about depression and its impact on people and the economy and the toll it takes with suicide. We also read about how wonderful treatments are and how it is important to get help as soon as possible. All the above is true and for sure if I, or one of my loved ones, or one of my friends, was depressed I would certainly opt for immediate treatment with an antidepressant medication and an evidence based psychotherapy, delivered by competent health care providers.
But, and this is a big but – the evidence shows that good as our treatments are, they are not as good as they should be. The medications really help a lot but they do not help everyone. The psychotherapies help a lot but they do not help everyone. Combining the treatments helps more people but even this does not help everyone. So what do we need to do?
Well, it's all well and good to make our systems of care more accessible and to train more health care providers to be able to treat depression but wait a minute. Shouldn’t we be spending a whole lot of time and effort on making our treatments better? Shouldn’t we be making sure that when we offer a treatment to someone the chances of it working the first time are as close to 100 percent as we can get? What would you prefer – a one day wait time for a treatment that works 50 percent of the time or a one week wait time for treatment that works 90 percent of the time? And while we are at it – why not a one day wait time for a treatment that works 100 percent of the time.
So we need to invest in treatment research. We can have all the health care providers and all the clinics and all the nice posters on the walls of schools and neat anti-stigma ads on the television and radio and on and on and on – but, if we do not get better at treatment, how much further are we really ahead? Do you know how many high powered (meaning really good scientific studies) have been done in Canada in the last five years on the treatment of some of the most common mental disorders that begin in adolescence. One? Five? Nine? Maybe none? Do you have any idea how much money is being spent on finding out how to better treat young people that have psychosis or depression or obsessive compulsive disorder compared to treatments for other medical illnesses or even compared how much is spent on posters that tell youth about problems? Don’t you think you should have some idea?
We need to invest in a major way in learning better ways to treat mental disorders in this country. We are not doing that in Canada. It is time we started to. Improving access to care is a good idea. Improving access to care that actually works is an even better idea.