Chair/Chief of Psychiatry devoted to advocacy, academics and suicide prevention

Psychiatrist Dr. Paul Links, Chair/Chief, Department of Psychiatry for St. Joseph's shares a little bit about himself and his vision for the department over his five year term (until January 2016). Below, Dr. Links shares a little bit about himself and his vision for the department over his five year term:

Dr. Paul Links, new Chair/Chief of Psychiatry

Q-What drew you to psychiatry as a career choice?
A- My Father was a physician which stimulated my interest in the medical field. He was a surgeon however, so it wasn’t psychiatry I thought about initially. When I did my clerkship on the mental health wards, I was fortunate to have worked with exceptional supervisors and mentors; they were so interested in their patients and took time with them. I enjoyed discovering what was behind different behaviors and determining the diagnosis so we could help them get better.

Q- What are some of your most significant accomplishments as a professional?
A- During the last 15 years of my career, and until recently, I held a chair in suicide studies in Toronto which was a fulfilling experience because it was devoted to suicide prevention. We did a lot of advocacy work and were one of the voices crying for the barrier around the Bloor Viaduct – a veil of iron rods which was put in place to prevent people from jumping off of the bridge.

Another initiative found us working closely with the Toronto Transit Commission to prevent subway suicides, facilitating a training program for staff to recognize people who were distressed. We also did a lot of student training at University of Toronto in the area of suicide prevention and suicide studies.

We were also involved with the Liberal Motion before the House of Commons to move for a National Suicide Prevention Strategy in Canada. This was significant because Canada is one of the few developed nations without one.

Q-What are you looking forward to in your role as Chair/Chief of Psychiatry?
A- The program seems ready to take a leap forward after having gone through quite a bit of change, with RMHC being tied to divestment and planning for upcoming new facilities and LHSC moving into new space.  Now that the bulk of that work is almost complete, it’s time to settle in and move forward.

Q-What is one specific goal you wish to achieve during your tenure as Chair/Chief?
A- I want to develop some research interest in the area of suicide prevention. There are already some important people doing this research now and I hope to build more of a team moving forward.

Q- What are your thoughts on the shortage of psychiatrist’s and do you have a plan for recruitment?
A- This is a nation wide problem that is not unique to London. Some of the things that I would like to see happen is developing educational programs throughout Southwestern Ontario so that we are training people to stay and work in smaller rural areas and continue to have a robust training program here so that we fill all of our slots and are training as many physicians as we can. I also would like to encourage collaborative models with family practice or what’s been called “shared care” where a psychiatrist works very closely with a family practitioner or clinic. There is a lot of evidence which suggests this approach provides the best quality of care.

Q- How do you envision carrying out your responsibility of promoting and improving education and research?
A- I see the department moving forward through involvement in training for sub-specialty programs within child, geriatric and forensic psychiatry, which is a new initiative in Canada, and in increasing the number of psychiatrists who are trained in those areas.

I would also like to see the department gain more prominence in its role as a developer of new knowledge, increasing the breadth of academic performance and output.

In terms of research, the department has great strengths in certain areas and we want to increase the scope of that. As a clinician and a researcher I think it is important to create more bridges between research, education and front line care.

Q-What would you like to see change about the stigma of mental illness?
A- Overcoming stigma is a huge problem and is very much related to the issue of suicide prevention. For instance, men die by suicide more commonly than women- about four times more likely. It’s the opposite if you look at attempts –more women attempt suicide. The issue is important in terms of helping these men who are at risk because they don’t commonly go for help. I think men feel very stigmatized when they have a mental illness or are experiencing emotional problems and I don’t think we offer help to men that is supportive of their needs.

The other issue is that men who are at risk for suicide often suffer from both mental illness and addiction which makes them more difficult to reach and more stigmatized. There are no easy solutions, but within psychiatry challenges us to start thinking about how to reach out to the male population.

Q- Do you have children? And do any of them plan to follow in your foot steps?
A- I have three children, two sons ages 29 and 25 and a daughter who is 18.  None of them plan to get into psychiatry but all three of them are still in school.

Q- Other than the present, which historical era would you like to have lived in?
A- I would have to say the Wild West. I grew up in Alberta so reflecting back on the rolling foothills and cattle country from my childhood conjures up good memories.

Q- What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A- My family is a bit musical and a little creative so I like to spend my time listening to and creating music and playing  a guitar duet with my son.

Q-What celebrity would you most like to meet?
A- Don Ross, a famous Canadian Guitarist- whom I’ve actually already met. He holds a concert in Toronto that I bring my family to each and every year. He’s quite remarkable.

Q- What book is currently on your bedside table?
A- World Without End -by Ken Follett

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