UBC Okanagan tests out walk-in well-being clinic

Pilot project examines if people will drop-in for a mental health check-up

Lesley Lutes, a clinical health psychologist who directs the PhD program in clinical psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus. photo:contributed

UBC Okanagan’s Interprofessional Clinic is testing out a walk-in clinic where people will have the opportunity to get a mental health check-up without an appointment.

Associate professor Lesley Lutes, director of clinical training for the PhD program in clinical psychology at UBC Okanagan, says the five-week pilot project is a first step to opening doors and conversations about mental health. The clinic will be open every Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Nov. 29 and is available to members of the community along with UBC students, faculty and staff.

This is a joint collaboration between the university’s Psychology Clinic and the Social Work Mental Health Clinic, explains Lutes, adding that each service, with their own areas of expertise, will have walk-in appointments available.

“I want to change the way we view health care,” said Lutes. “Right now in BC we have walk-in clinics for physical or medical care that are everywhere and open every day. Everyone has access to the clinics and they are free, immediate and readily available.”

Lutes says while it is well known that mental health is connected to physical health, there is a disconnect when it comes to the treatment of mental and physical well-being. Referrals and wait times to receive mental health care deter some people, while others see it as service that isn’t for them, or a ‘boutique service’ for others more in need. And despite major campaigns such as the U.K.’s Heads Together program, stigma continues to surround the concept of mental health and accessing care.

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“I want to see care for physical health and mental health viewed together as a necessity. Mental health services should be just as accessible and a right that everyone has,” said Lutes. “I want to take mental health from being a high-end boutique where just a select few patron the store to a big box store where everyone comes to shop. I want it to be accessible, free and I want everyone to know help is available.”

At Lutes’ former institution in North Carolina, colleagues piloted a similar program at a primary care clinic. When patients attending the clinic for treatment identified an issue that could be impacted by mental health or behavioural treatment, the physician would bring in the psychologist to conduct a brief assessment and provide support, relevant psycho-education and goal setting—in less than 30 minutes.

It was such a success, she says, that is now the standard of practice at the Family Medicine Clinic at the university.

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Lutes has statistics to back-up her passion to begin making changes in BC. Primary care providers say six out of 10 visits are based on mental health issues including stress, anxiety, chronic pain, depression, work-life balance or lack of sleep. At the same, in a recent Canadian survey of first-year college students, one out 10 students admit they have contemplated suicide, and the number one group that is committing suicide is middle-aged adults.

“We are testing the waters with this new clinic. I want to know if people are interested in accessing support for a variety of issues that could be impacting their quality of life. During these five weeks, we want to test to see if walk-in well-being clinics are feasible, acceptable and able to fill a gap in the delivery of service for mental health.”

The clinics take place at UBC Okanagan’s Interprofessional Clinic, room ASC167, every Thursday until the end of Nov. Participants will have a 30-minute, confidential session with a graduate student clinician—supervised by a registered psychologist or licensed social worker—with no appointment necessary. People can drop-in, or call 250-807-8241 and press one for reception, to determine if there is a wait time.

If successful, they will do a longer-term pilot program to provide the evidence for its potential as Lutes would ultimately like to see the walk-in clinic as a permanent facility on campus.

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