A ‘landmark day’: York University Psychology Clinic officially opens

"Today is clearly a landmark day", Michael Kirby, chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, told the group gathered at the official opening of the York University Psychology Clinic (YUPC). A 5,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility in York’s Behavioural Sciences Building, the YUPC will provide training for graduate psychology students, as well as mental health services to York faculty, staff and the surrounding community.

Left: Louise Hartley (left), YUPC clinic director, Michael Kirby, chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, student Madalyn Marcus (MA ’07), President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and Harvey Skinner, dean of the Faculty of Health, cut the ribbon to officialy open the York University Psychology Clinic

“There is no other illness that has the impact mental health has on people,” said Kirby. “And there simply aren’t enough places where people can go when they need help.” The opening of the YUPC is important as it gives people more access to mental health services, which is absolutely critical.

In addition, there are not enough people working in the mental health field, and the YUPC will play a crucial role in training more psychologists. “It is a huge, huge step forward,” said Kirby.

Right: Michael Kirby, chair of the Mental Health Commission

As an example of how little importance has been placed on mental health up until now, Kirby said there have been many national studies done on acute care and only one on mental health. In addition, Canada is the only G8 country without a national mental health strategy and it has no national policy against discrimination for those with mental health issues.

Kirby retired from the Senate of Canada in 2006 after 22 years of service and chaired the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science & Technology from 1999 to 2006. The committee, under his leadership, produced 11 health care reports, including the first-ever national report on mental health, mental illness and addiction, titled Out of the Shadows at Last. One of the committee’s recommendations was to set up a national mental health commission, which Kirby now heads.

The commission has embarked on a 10-year national anti-stigma campaign to change attitudes about mental health and to initiate a social movement to make mental health a priority in this country. Kirby said research has shown that this kind of a campaign can have a dramatic difference.

Left: Harvey Skinner (left), dean of the Faculty of Health, and Louise Hartley, YUPC director

Only by creating that kind of social movement will mental health get the dollars for research and an increase of services, said Kirby.

Harvey Skinner, dean of the Faculty of Health, underlined the need for clinics such as the YUPC when he told the gathering that “fourteen per cent of children under the age of 15 have some form of mental health concern.” In addition, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, and youth are yet another high-risk category.

“Mental health is a huge issue in Canada and globally,” said Skinner. “One of the distinctions of the YUPC, is we have both clinical and clinical developmental graduate programs. That is quite unique.”

Louise Hartley, clinic director, told the gathering that 52 students have already signed up to work in the clinic to receive training, whether it’s in doing assessments or learning more about infants and pain, autism spectrum disorder or anxiety. She talked about the need to deal with the stress some people are under as it can lead to more serious mental health issues and physical health issues, and in families it can have a negative effect on the children.

Right: York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri at opening of the York University Psychology Clinic

“One in eight Canadians alive today will experience a major depressive disorder,” she said. Yet many people still see asking for help for a mental illness as a sign of weakness.

Mental health, said Hartley, is important to a person’s overall health. “Psychology has a lot to offer physical health.”

The clinic will operate in a manner similar to a teaching hospital, with PhD students conducting counselling under the supervision of registered psychologists. It will provide services for people of all ages, including individual, couples and families. The clinic will also offer cutting-edge treatment with researchers specializing in disorders including autism, Asperger syndrome, anxiety and chronic pain.

Some of the funding for the clinic has come from the Counselling Foundation of Canada, which pledged $225,000 for a mentoring program that matches psychology students with students with Asperger syndrome a form of autism that affects people’s ability to understand basic social cues. Not only does the program help students with Aspergers navigate their way through university, it provides invaluable experience to the mentors who are training to become mental health professionals. In addition, the Alva Foundation, which donated $100,000 toward autism research and treatment, to be used to purchase equipment for diagnosis, observation and other tasks.

For more information about the clinic, visit the YUPC Web site.