An Interview on Mental Health with Dr. Robin Friedlander

Enabled Kids is attending the Health and Wellbeing in Developmental Disabilities Two-Day Conference (HWDD) at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel in downtown Toronto. We will be bringing you live blog posts from the conference venue on Nov. 12th and 13th.


We had the honour of speaking to Dr. Robin Friedlander, Psychiatrist and Head of the Neuropsychiatry clinic at the BC Children’s Hospital; Clinical Director of the Vancouver & Fraser Developmental Disability Mental Health Service; Director of the Developmental Disorders Program at the University of British Columbia; and Chairman of the Planning Committee of the 4th Health and Wellbeing in Children, Youth and Adults with Developmental Disabilities Conference next year in Vancouver, BC. Here is a transcript of the conversation we had talking about the current state of healthcare for people with developmental disabilities and what could be improved.

Enabled Kids (E): “Thank you for taking our interview Dr. Friedlander. What do you think about this Health and Wellbeing in Developmental Disabilities Conference so far?”

Dr. Robin Friedlander (F): “This is a really important conference, it is the only conference on this topic that is hosted on the east of the Rockies in Canada. It brings together people working in the field. It allows us to share ideas, what’s new and what’s happening. What’s really interesting is that I learned that there’s a lot going on in Ontario recently that I was completely unaware of before.”



Dr. Robin Friedlander also presented at a workshop ‘Antipsychotics in Developmental Disabilities: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ at HWDD, illustrating the use/misuse of antipsychotics in children for control of aggressive behaviour.


E: “Great! Now knowing that you are a specialist in dual diagnosis, how far do you think Canada has come in terms of identifying dual diagnosis in individuals and how far do you think we still have to go?”

F: “We are much better than we used to be, because every psychiatry trainee gets training. BC has the best training program in the country for psychiatrists I think. In some medical schools, students might get one seminar or a talk on this topic, but they are not even mandatory. The reason that students don’t have an interest in this is because they don’t have any idea on the issue. The problem in medical schools is that everyone feels that their particular area of expertise is the most important. But in time, people will know of different diagnoses and include them in medical schools’ curriculums.”

E: “Going into your expertise as a Psychiatrist and Head of the Neuropsychiatry clinic at BC Children’s Hospital, how important is early identification or treatment in terms of a child with developmental disabilities’ health and wellbeing later on in life?”

F: “Early identification of autism seems to be important, because if treated early, it helps with the prognosis. It depends on which intellectual disability the child has, some are treatable, some are not. Early identification is important for the ones that are treatable.”

E: “With mental health becoming an issue gaining more public attention, we would like to ask should mental health be a primary-care doctor’s job?”

F: “It should be started with primary care, because psychiatrists can’t treat it all. I only get referred patients, the system makes it the only way psychiatrists can get paid, which I think is smart.”




E: “When people talk about integrated mental health care, what are the key components that must be included?”

F: “I believe they are talking about different departments, including pediatricians, behavioral therapists, and so on, looking after for example a patient with self-injury symptoms together, sharing their knowledge and methods, instead of dealing with the patient separately.”

E: “What is the biggest thing that is lacking at the moment in providing care for children with developmental disabilities?”

F: “I think we need more integrated clinics, because the funding is being separated now and goes to different healthcare providers such as behavioural therapists and physicians. But I believe that the government funding should be integrated. A lot of times families who seek resources for children with developmental disabilities are seeking for it within the community. If these kids have very complicated diagnoses, their family members might need a break from taking care of them. There should be something that’s built into the system where people with the skills to take care of these kids could be arranged together. The funding is there, but it’s how you use it that is important.”

E: “Has there been an increase of people diagnosed with developmental disabilities over the years? What are the factors that tie into that?”

F: “There has been more diagnoses of autism, this is because of the financial funding attached to the research. But this is hopeful because intervention in the people diagnosed with the disorder could change the outcomes. With more government funding, services to help with identifying diagnoses that were not available before have been opened up.”

We thank Dr. Friedlander for taking the time to speak with us. We wish him best wishes for hosting the Health and Wellbeing in Developmental Disabilities Conference in Vancouver BC in 2014.


Do you have more questions in mind? COMMENT below and we’ll try our best to find experts to answer them.

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has written 15 articles for Enabled Kids.

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