Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mental health system 'fragmented'


An article published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
Canada lacks strategy, public forum told

By John McPhee, Health Reporter

Canada is the only G8 country that doesn’t have a national mental health strategy, a public forum was told Monday.

In fact, it would be a stretch to say we have a mental health system at all, said Louise Bradley (pictured), president and chief executive officer of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

"It’s too fragmented to be called a system," Bradley told more than 250 people who packed two large rooms in the Halifax Forum complex for the forum.

The commission, made up of 50 staff members and 120 volunteers, was created three years ago as a result of the Kirby report on mental health and addiction in 2006. It was given a 10-year mandate to address such issues as homelessness, stigma and mental health "first aid," which seeks to identify and address problems as early as possible.

But it is up to grassroots organizations and the provinces to make the commission’s plan a reality, said Bradley, the former head of mental health services at the Capital district health authority.

"If we have no ability to implement anything, it’s going to be a waste of time and a waste of money."

The forum was jointly sponsored by Dalhousie University’s psychiatry department and the Mental Health Coalition of Nova Scotia, made up of individuals and organizations focused on addressing mental health issues.

The province puts about 3.8 per cent of roughly $3.5 billion in health spending into mental health services.

"The system has to work, the capacity has to be built up," Nick Delva, the head of the Dalhousie psychiatry department and co-leader of Capital Health mental health services, said in an interview.

"I don’t think that’s occurring right now. Many people aren’t getting care."

Delva spoke at the forum along with other care providers and advocates from the province and Capital Health.

He singled out the need for housing and treatment in the community for people dealing with complex problems.

"Any particular day here (in Capital Health), we have 50 to 70 people in our in-patient beds who could be placed in the community if there were adequate support."

During question-and-answer sessions, Delva and other speakers heard criticism about access to mental health services, particularly in rural areas.

"There’s plenty of mental health services, but there’s no way people can access them," said Randy Carter of East Jeddore, Halifax County, who noted the lack of public transportation outside of urban centres.

"Something has seriously got to be done because I’ve been involved in this for 40 years and it’s still the same as it was back then."

Collaboration among all government levels are crucial to addressing these kinds of problems, said Susan Kilbride Roper, the co-chairwoman of the mental health coalition.

She particularly welcomed the national commission’s work and that of the Nova Scotia mental health strategy advisory committee.

"We’ve got a bunch of advocates, federal advocates, we’ve never had that before," Kilbride Roper said in an interview. "This is the good news. Getting back to the bad news, the issues are still there and they’re becoming increasingly (serious). Hospital wait times, services in the community, there’s not enough funding. Provincially, we have a lot more work to do."

(jmcphee@herald.ca)

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