Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mental health session draws ideas, skeptics

An article published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
Committee seeks input from people affected by addiction, other issues

By Pat Lee, Staff Reporter

A public session on how to improve services for those with mental health or addiction issues elicited lots of input Tuesday on where the system needs improvement and a healthy dose of skepticism about the exercise.

While those attending the afternoon-long session in Halifax agreed there is an urgent need for a better way to treat and support those with mental illness or addictions, especially among the young, some said the problems have been studied for decades.

"These are the same issues that have being going on for 25, 30 or 40 years now," one person said. "What’s going to be different?"

Terry Taylor of the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, which was handed the task of running the consultations, said he’s not surprised by the skepticism.

"A question we’re asked, not infrequently, (is), ‘What’s different now?’ " Taylor said.

He said people should be optimistic that change will occur because Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald, who struck the committee a year ago, is "100 per cent committed and passionate about this issue. She has said publicly that she would like this to be her legacy."

Tuesday’s gathering was one of six public consultations organized by the committee that is charged with creating the province’s long-awaited mental health and addictions strategy. The committee is composed of a dozen health experts, researchers, mental health clinicians and people living with or affected by mental illness.

During Tuesday’s session, interest peaked when the discussion turned to the need for improved addiction services around the province, particularly for young people.

Of the 134 beds set aside for the treatment of alcohol or drug addiction, none are specifically for young people, Taylor said.

Many in attendance said it’s next to impossible to get help for mental illness or addiction unless someone has reached a crisis point.

It’s well known that a child in a mental health crisis will not be seen at the IWK Health Centre unless they are thought to be suicidal, Dr. Bob Frederickson said.

"That has to be publicly stated because that’s crazy," he said.

Dr. David Pilon, program leader of specialty mental health services for Capital Health's mental health program, said his staff is overwhelmed. He said 80 or so clinicians assess and treat more than 600 new referrals a month, on top of many other specialty treatment and programs offered at the hospital

"We have reached a critical point where we’re up against a wall," he said. "Less than four per cent of the total health care budget goes to mental health and it no longer computes."

"Psychiatric and addiction care is one of the worst services we have in Nova Scotia," said another physician, who did not want to be named.

"We need more timely access. My perception is that the system is mired in paperwork and passing the buck and working nine to five."

Along with public input, the committee is seeking input from health-care providers, government agencies, non-profit groups and any others involved with or impacted by those with addictions or mental health concerns.

Taylor said the information gathered, which will result in recommendations sent to government sometime in the fall, comes on the heels of work done by Senator Michael Kirby in the area of mental health advocacy. Closer to home, there has also been the Hyde Report by Judge Anne Derrick.

While the report on Howard Hyde, a [man with schizophrenia] who died after struggling with jail guards, focussed on dealing with the mentally ill within the justice system, Taylor said the report also highlighted the need for an infusion of funding within the mental health care system as well as other related recommendations.

Along with the public meetings, including one this Thursday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater, Taylor and his group have met with 67 other groups and plan to talk to about 40 more before the end of the month. The group expects to hear from about 1,000 people before it’s done.

People can also provide input online or through the mail. For more information, go to or call 424-4043.


Photograph by Eric Wynne / The Chronicle Herald

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