Community group encouraged by increased Manitoba funding for mindfulness-based therapy

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A community organization in northwest Winnipeg praises the additional investments in mindfulness-based therapy that is being expanded to reach more people, amid the increased need for mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manitoba is committing $700,000 for a mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy center, the province announced Wednesday. The funding will allow the center to expand online access and expand services.

“We’ve seen the need for these kinds of services increase during the pandemic,” said Rebecca Blaikie, executive director of Norwest Co-op Community Health, which has offered mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy for several years.

“We have seen the positive impact of having access to this therapy on the quality of life of members of our community. We are excited to see what this expanded access will mean for our community.”

Rebecca Blaikie, executive director of Norwest Co-op Community Health, said the center has offered CBTm therapy for several years and has seen the positive impact it can have on community members. (Radio Canada)

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, also known as mCBT, incorporates mindfulness principles to help participants learn skills to better cope with stressful life situations, according to the province.

It has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep, develop emotional regulation techniques and help manage other mental health issues, Manitoba’s Minister of Mental Health said Wednesday.

Speaking at a press conference, Sarah Guillemard said the additional funding will help reduce barriers to services. This will help hospital and community sites expand access to facilitator-led virtual CBTm classes or self-directed online courses, she said.

Manitoba invested $300,000 last year in the cognitive therapy center amid heightened need, though the program was developed long before the pandemic, Guillemard said.

The hope is to train an additional 70 to 100 facilitators in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and recruit between 700 and 1,000 Manitobans to use the service over the next year, said the medical lead for mental health and substance abuse with Shared Health, which coordinates health- care services in Manitoba.

Dr. Jitender Sareen said cognitive behavioral therapy is often considered the “gold standard” treatment for a variety of issues. CBT and mindfulness-based therapies help practitioners become more resilient to stressful life events, including people who are not living with mental illness, he added.

“It is the most studied and recognized of all psychotherapies and has been shown to be effective in treating all mental disorders and substance use conditions,” Sareen said at Wednesday’s press conference.

The five-week program offers seven and a half hours of CBTm therapy and was first developed in 2017.

In its first year, the program targeted adults. In the future, it will be extended to young people aged 14 to 17.

Shay-Lee Bolton, assistant professor in the departments of psychiatry and community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, called the funding a “critical investment” in the mental health of Manitobans.

“The CBTm center will lay the foundation for cutting-edge mental health research in this province,” Bolton said.

Shay-Lee Bolton is Assistant Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Community Health Sciences at the Max Rady College of Medicine at the University of Manitoba. (CTV pool)

Bolton says the team has already scientifically proven that mCBT is effective in reducing anxiety, depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including in those who are already coping well with the challenges of everyday life.

This work was done before the pandemic. Bolton suggested that different groups might benefit differently from updated virtual offerings, so it will be important to track effectiveness in different segments of the population and make adjustments accordingly.

The program has also received state and provincial funding for tailored programs for physicians, public safety personnel and peripartum women, Bolton said. It can also apply to nurses, the elderly, youth and indigenous populations.

Bolton said the new funding will also support French translation services.

More than 50 hospitals and community programs have received training and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy programs over the past five years, Guillemard said.

“[It] aims to build resilience, improve mental health well-being and improve access to mental health services,” she said.


Have you used Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Manitoba? Email [email protected]

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