Status quo on mental health unacceptable

To the editor:

Re: "Urgent response centre still lost in transition," March 20.

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The dismissive and ill-informed comments of Margaret MacDiarmid, B.C.'s Health Minister, about Vancouver's need for an urgent response mental health centre is a great example of the reckless disregard the B.C. government has perpetuated over the last decade toward citizens who require acute psychiatric care.

The story did not report that it was some time ago that the generous Segal family offered their $12 million donation to build this new centre at Vancouver General Hospital but the B.C. government did nothing with it. It's only with an election less than two months away that the province did anything to move this important project forward.

Assertive community teams (ACT) exist in many regions around the province and the inter-disciplinary professionals that work on these teams perform admirable, difficult work to support some of the most high-risk, vulnerable people who are living in our communities. However, it is a serious mistake to think that ACT teams take the place of acute care facilities and it is pure sophistry to suggest that an urgent care centre would constitute a duplication of services.

The youth and adult forensic psychiatric systems are filled with people who did not receive the urgent mental health care they required, including assessment, stabilization, treatment and supportive case management and discharge planning because the civil mental health system continues to be underfunded, under-resourced and understaffed by the B.C. government and the Health Authorities.

Over the past decade, mental health services for children, youth and adults have become fragmented and very difficult to access, as many individuals and families can attest. In this time, the B.C. government has provided little in the way of strategic leadership, monitoring, accountability or responsibility for how mental health services are being delivered across the province.

As a result of these structural and systemic conditions, people who should be receiving care of-ten become more and more ill, sometimes posing a risk to themselves and others. These people are also more vulnerable and at-risk of harm, exploitation and maltreatment from others with few avenues to seek support.

B.C.'s social safety net, which includes a strong mental health system of care, adequate disability assistance and a continuum of housing, has become so frayed that organizations like the Vancouver Police Department and B.C.'s jails and prisons are becoming the de facto first responders for those who are experiencing acute mental health crisis. With the loss of resources such as Riverview Hospital and less tertiary psychiatric care beds in the province, communities such as Vancouver are facing the realities of these political decisions which download responsibility onto municipalities to manage increased homelessness, increased use of policing resources for mental health calls and insufficient resources to support the numbers who require a higher level of care.

Like many voters in B.C., I'm waiting impatiently to see what leadership, solutions and strategic action each political party will be promising in their election platforms to improve and strengthen the mental health system of care and B.C.'s social safety net. The status quo is no longer an option because far too many people are suffering.

A civil society ensures that all of its citizens, especially its most vulnerable, have access to timely, competent and responsive care. People with mental illness deserve the same human rights and dignity as everyone else in B.C. It is time for our government to act as though they believe that, too.

Tracey Young, MSW, RSW Vancouver

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