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The Canadian Mental Health Association, Saskatchewan Division, was the first non-profit volunteer organization of its kind in Canada.  CMHA, Saskatchewan Division, has advocated for and with mentally ill people and their families, urging governments to meet the needs of mentally ill people and their families.

For 60 years, CMHA, Saskatchewan Division, has been committed to a three fold mission, providing advocacy, public awareness and services, first to patients in the Saskatchewan mental health hospitals and finally to consumers of mental health services living in the community.

In 1908 A New Haven engineer, Clifford Beers, who had suffered a serious mental illness, organized the Connecticut Society for Mental Hygiene and in 1909, the National Committee for Mental Hygiene was developed.

In 1914, the first Saskatchewan Mental Hospital at North Battleford was developed.

In 1918, a Toronto lawyer by the name of Dr. Clarence Hincks, along with Clifford Beers, organized the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene.

In 1929, the Government of Saskatchewan appointed a committee to study psychiatric services with a view to receive recommendations to meet many of the problems.  The recommendations were as follows:

  • Development of Mental Health Clinics
  • Implementation of Psychiatric Units if general hospitals
  • Provisions for public education in the field of mental hygiene
  • Development of research in psychiatry and training of psychiatric nurses and ward staff
  • Greater emphasis on out-patient activities
  • Separation of mental illness from intellectual disabilities

Unfortunately, the depression struck and these plans were delayed.

In 1946, the first psychiatric out-patient service in the province was started at Regina General Hospital and in 1949, a clinic was established in Saskatoon.

In 1949, the first local CMHA branch was established in Saskatchewan by Dr. Sam Laycock.

In 1950, the Committee for Mental Hygiene became the Canadian Mental Health Association.  Federal Minister of Health, Paul Martin, suggested that CMHA set up a pilot division in one province.  Saskatchewan was selected as the place for the pilot division.  The first activities that occurred were the organization of regular hospital visits by volunteers and public meetings to try to break down stigma.  In the 1950’s, an education campaign with speakers, panels and literature began.

In 1952, volunteer visiting began at Weyburn Hospital and Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford.  The purpose of volunteer visiting was to:

  • Provide more companionship than what was available in the hospital.
  • Show that the community was interested in the area of mental health.
  • Breakdown the isolation from the world of “normal” living.
  • Encourage friends and family to visit.
  • Help the patient in social adjustment when they left the hospital.

In the 1950’s, new antipsychotic drugs were developed.  These drugs, however, did not prevent or cure mental illness but did make it possible to control some of the symptoms of certain illnesses, which enabled many patients to return to or remain in their home community.

In 1952, a survey was conducted in the Regina area for information on the discharged mental health patient.  The survey revealed that few patients were working, many lacked friends, and the majority had no social life and were lonely.

In 1954, A CMHA Rehabilitation Center was opened in Regina and one in 1956 in Saskatoon.  Several centers opened all across Canada.  The name was changed from CMHA to White Cross Centers. At White Cross centers, the ex-patients were referred to as “club-members” rather than patients.  For the first few years, the White Cross Centers were mostly social clubs.  An industrial program was later introduced to prepare members for employment in a sheltered workshop or in the regular labour market.  The workshops were discontinued when Cosmopolitan Industries opened in 1971.  Some also went to work at the Sask Council for Crippled Children and Adults.

In the 1960’s, the Saskatchewan Plan began to become a reality.  Based on input from Dr. Mckerracher (1st head of the Department of Psychiatry at University Hospital) and Dr. Sam Lawson (Director of Psychiatric Services Branch).  The key principles were:

  • Good medical and counselling services should be available close to where people live and work, in order to allow early intervention in emotional and psychiatric difficulties.
  • Rehabilitation should be provided in order to help patients back to a more normal life in the community and to reduce the likelihood of readmission to hospital.  There was a sharp decline in inpatient population in Mental Health Hospitals.  Problems arose as the government had not established the necessary facilities and staff for outpatients, community care.

In 1964, the Yorkton Psychiatric Center opened.  The Yorkton Center emphasized outpatient care, a team approach involving all of the mental health professionals, decentralization of services into rural areas and reduction in the length of time people stayed in mental health hospitals.

In 1967, Dr. Shervert Frazier of Texas asked to study Saskatchewan’s psychiatric services and make recommendations (Frazier Report).  Frazier strongly supported the Saskatchewan Plan but suggested that it had not been fully implemented as Psychiatric Services Branch budget was insufficient.  This resulted in unsatisfactory salaries and working conditions and an exodus of key professionals.  This resulted in a large increase in mental health services budget in Saskatchewan.  One effect of this was more funding being provided to the Mental Health Association for community programs.

In the late 1960’s, the number of non-medical mental health professionals exploded and health professionals; psychologists, social workers and even occupational therapists became very interested, which initiated the development of psychological theories and conflict.  In this context of conflict both within and between professionals, mental health services became a vulnerable target for cutbacks in government spending.

In the 1970’s, Saskatchewan encountered a period of relative stagnation in mental health services.

In 1972, Psychiatric Services Branch lost responsibility for intellectual disability, which decreased the budget.

In 1973, the Psychiatric Nursing Training Program transferred from Mental Health Hospitals to Wascana Institute.  Subsequently, the number of Psychiatric Services Branch staff declined steadily.

In 1980, The Mental Health Association established the Task Force on Mental Health Services in Saskatchewan.