More needs to be done

While the two mental health-related stories in our paper last week tell two very different stories, once you start to look at the situation you notice an unsurprising theme.

The provincial response to the extensive mental health and addictions inpatient needs has been woefully inadequate.

Our story, ‘Needs Improvement’, on page one of Friday’s paper lays out what the provincial auditor found wrong with the system. Judy Ferguson took a look at wait times, record keeping, client communication and the demand to meet overall demand.

Crowded detox services forced the health region to turn some away.

Millions of dollars are being spent and it is still not nearly enough.

Then, there was the story about the new playground for the youth mental health inpatient unit.

It is a good story. The Elks and the Royal Purple Elks should be applauded for all they have done to improve the lives of adults and children staying in the inpatient mental health unit of the Victoria Hospital.

But some of the thing they’ve bought, like adequate mattresses or blinds for windows that didn’t have any, seem like pretty basic needs the province should probably be taking care of.

How would you feel if you were spending time in hospital recovering from a mental health issue and there weren’t even blinds on your window?

Blinds and mattresses seem like they should be pretty basic needs. But until the Elks stepped up, nothing had been done.

If you’ve ever been to the mental health unit at the hospital (I’ve visited twice for news stories), you’ll see its located down a long, bleak, empty hallway. Staff is doing what it can, with art from the art therapy program, to liven the space up. But the fact that the unit is physically isolated from the rest of the building shows what, for a long time, people have thought about it.

There’s another story coming up in the next week or so we’re working on. It involves an operator of a private facility for a specific mental health-related issue. They have beds. They’ve offered to provide some for the province to use when waiting lists get full. They say the province turned them down. We’re still waiting for a response, but if that is the case, it raises some important questions, especially in light of the auditor’s report.

But there’s another question the provincial government has yet to answer to my satisfaction, and we’re not the only ones asking.

The province recently benefitted from millions in targeted funding for mental health initiatives from the federal government. While some of that has been earmarked for certain programs, and while the province has committed to funding increased access to mental health supports in Prince Albert and the north, there are still millions that are not accounted for.

The government says it has a plan, and that the money will go to targeted initiatives to maximize the impact.

While I do like the sound of that, governments make me a bit cynical, especially when it’s wrapped in the veil of vagueness.

The province also has a mental health action plan. But it has been frustratingly slow with actually implementing any of its own recommendations.

Meanwhile, things only get worse, and people with preventable, or at least intervene-able illnesses and addictions continue the parade to the emergency room, costing valuable resources and risking human life.

If the resources and care were there, it wouldn’t be necessary to send an ambulance or to hospitalize someone. It should be possible to catch, and treat, much of this long before that happens.

Thankfully, there appears to be some hope on the horizon. Folks from all sides of the discussion, including the Hon. Gord Wyant, Opposition Leader Ryan Meili and even executive director of primary care Brett Enns realize that just throwing money at the situation, or running to put out fires as they arise, is akin to slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

We need to take a whole-of-society approach to this, involving the education system, department of social services even policing, corrections and justice.

Because while mental illness doesn’t discriminate, one of the sad facts of the situation is those in the upper class, when wait times get long, should it be absolutely necessary, can afford to pay and get private help. I’m extremely lucky that in the worst times of my life, I was able to obtain top-notch help from a private practice.

But the most vulnerable can’t.

It won’t be a fast process, it won’t be an easy process, but I believe it will be a necessary process. It will be a process up to the bureaucrats, politicians and not-for-profits to figure out. But it will also be a process we, everyday citizens need to push for, and need to ensure the ones we’ve elected to lead us, stay committed to.

Preventative medicine has come a long way for ailments of the body. But, as health region officials pointed out numerous times during that playground unveiling Wednesday, there is no health without mental health.

In the meantime, while we push for that long-term, preventative solution, we must still ensure our system meets the basic needs we require. And if the system should fall short, we, as Saskatchewanians, and as Canadians, should take the example of the Elks and put blinds on the windows and mattresses on the beds.

It’s not the most glamorous cause, but it may be one of the causes our society needs the most.

Thierman Financial