NDP MP Richard Canings for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
The federal government must do more to provide better mental health support.
That sentence could have ended in many different ways. Last month I wrote about how the feds need to get back into the housing game after 30 years of abandoning housing investment. Before that it was child care and before we need national bushfire fighting units.
Despite the province of BC’s record investments in many social portfolios, the numerous crises we face rely on the federal government waking up to the needs of everyday Canadians.
Mental health care is health care. But I keep hearing concerns that there needs to be better mental health care in Canada. If Canadians could easily and affordably access better mental health support, it would not only be life-changing for many, but the benefits would be seen across problem sectors such as health, education, addiction and our criminal justice system.
In BC, it is estimated that one in five interactions with the police involve someone with a mental health disorder.
Suffering from mental health or addiction struggles is not a crime and should not be treated as such. That, to me, is the heart of the Car 40 program announced for Penticton this summer. More formally known as Mobile Integrated Crisis Response, the program is an innovative provincial program where specialized crisis teams pair a police officer with a health worker to better respond to police mental health calls. On-site teams provide emotional and mental health assessments, crisis intervention and referrals to appropriate services in the community.
In Penticton, the program is built on partnerships including city hall, the local RCMP department and Interior Health. The teams help free up police resources to focus on crime, while ensuring that vulnerable people in crisis due to mental health issues receive compassionate and appropriate care.
The program has had very good feedback in several large cities in BC and was expanded to Penticton, Vernon and seven other smaller centers this summer. In total, the province will add $3 million to its Safer Communities Action Plan to support the program.
So where is the federal government doing its part as promised?
Along with my colleague Gord Johns, the NDP’s mental health and harm reduction critic, we urged the government to keep its promises on Canada’s mental health transfer. Yet no funding is in sight and no specific or measurable resources have been provided for community-based mental health and substance use treatment.
People’s lives are at risk and they should not rely on our overcrowded emergency rooms or first responders as the primary source of help. With 35 percent of Canadians experiencing serious mental health issues, it is unwise to withhold health care funding.
Again, mental health care is health care. No one should have to choose between filling their fridge or getting the quality health care they need. But unfortunately, Canadians have to make tough decisions. That’s why people expected (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau to include real mental health support in his government’s new health care deal with the provinces and territories. But the Canadians were disappointed again.
The government needs to do everything it can to reduce the barriers people face when reaching out for help. The New Democrats are urging the government to stop delaying and increasing mental health spending to expand access to care, reduce the burden on emergency rooms and police, reduce the high cost of patient services and introduce support to combat Canada’s toxic drug crisis.
I commend provincial and local governments that have come together for programs like Car 40. We will continue to fight to ensure that people suffering from mental health and substance use disorders also receive the help our federal government has promised them.
Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan – West Kootenay.
This article is written by or on behalf of an external commentator and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.
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