COVID-19, Suicide & Mental Health Services in the Emergency Room

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Episode #30 with Dr. Ian Dawe

Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto & Program Chief & Medical Director (Mental Health) at Trillium Health Partners

Some of the topics we cover in the episode are

  • In this episode we discuss what’s happening with Mental health services during the COVID19 pandemic.
  • How hospitals had to pivot and allocate resources to meet the needs of people infected by COVID19, including his own retraining on how to be an ER doctor and work ventilators. 
  • What has changed in psychiatry and mental health services over the past few decades and how we might re-envision what publicly funded mental health services might look like. 
  • He discusses his innovative work on “Project Zero” a new approach to addressing the alarming rate of suicide deaths. 

This was just the beginning of more in-depth conversations with Dr Dawe, he is a wealth of wisdom and knowledge with how our mental health care system works and what we can do to create a healthier and happier world.


Active patient involvement is essential to patient-centred care for Dr. Dawe. “Patients and families are the experts—they have living expertise. We have training and compassion. When we collaborate with patients and each other, we create real change.”

He is a strong believer in meaningful partnerships that benefit patients, including aligned mental health care. “We are all of us—physicians and patients—so much better when we work together,” he says.

“In both my patient care and administrative duties, I have endeavoured to empower patients and their families to be actively part of the process, to make better decisions—this enhances their care,” he continues.

A Natural Innovator

Dr. Dawe is an expert in suicide prevention. As a Fellow with the University of Toronto’s Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair, Dr. Dawe worked with many partners to advocate for the Luminous Veil, the barrier that now successfully prevents suicides at the Bloor Street Viaduct. “Getting people to pause and reconsider their decision, frequently results in changed minds.”

As Chair of the Ontario Hospital’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention Standards, Dr. Dawe leads a group of provincial experts, including many with living expertise, to bring effective standards to all of Ontario’s hospitals in the area of suicide prevention.

Dr. Dawe envisions a zero-percent suicide plan for Ontario. “The suicide rate hasn’t changed in 15 years—that’s because we haven’t decided to change it together. Like any quality improvement project, you first need a target.”

Emergency Mental Health Care Innovations

Dr. Dawe also led the Mental Health and Addiction Emergency Department Alliance—a multi-hospital partnership like the MPA—where he introduced several innovations, including creating respite beds in a special zone so that mental health patients could be transferred to a peaceful place for up to 72 hours outside Emergency and without hospital admission.

He plans to reduce the staggering patient volume at our ED by partnering with the school boards to discover kids’ health issues before they become emergencies. He also plans to reduce seniors’ mental health visits.

For St. Michael’s Hospital, he established the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, a partnership with Toronto Police Service’s 51 Division in which doctors—including himself—rode in police cruisers to visit emergency mental health sufferers.

Follow Dr. Dawe on Twitter – @DrIanDawe

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