February 22, 2018 1:18 am

Mental health missing from B.C. budget, say advocates

The Canadian Mental Health Association says it was disappointed to see no major new investment in mental health in B.C.'s 2018 budget.

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Advocates for mental health say they’re feeling left out by the B.C. NDP’s new budget.

The document, the NDP’s first in 17 years, included significant spending on affordable housing and support for Indigenous people, but the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says it missed the mark on tackling mental illness directly.

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CMHA senior director of policy planning Kendra Milne said B.C.’s mental health services are currently overwhelmed, and that advocates were hoping to see that addressed.

“We really haven’t seen a system that’s comprehensive and co-ordinated that plans for the overall need in the province,” she said.

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The NDP established the province’s first Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions when it took power in July, which has been funded to the tune of $10 million per year over the next three years.

The province also dedicated $290 million to the health and mental health ministries in its September mini-budget, aimed at addressing the fentanyl crisis.

Two major projects launched under the previous Liberal government, a 75-bed mental health and substance use centre at Royal Columbian Hospital, and the replacement of the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions, are also funded to completion.

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But Milne says the lack of significant new funding in Tuesday’s budget is out of step with a society in which more and more people are coming forward to talk about their mental health issues.

“People are willing to step out, and we want them to do that,” she said. “But it also means there’s been an increase in service demand.”

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One place where many had hoped to see a major new investment in mental health was Coquitlam’s shuttered Riverview Hospital.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, a vocal advocate of renewing the facility as a centre for mental health and addictions, said on that front at least, the government needs to be given a little more time.

“I’ve heard from the provincial government on a number of occasions their passion for the site, as well as their commitment to the issue of mental health and addictions,” he said.

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Stewart said he believes the government has heard the message from the public, and will be coming to the table with significant investments at the Riverview site and elsewhere.

“I know as well that those kinds of plans take months and months to put together, where a decision about an empty home tax or something like that can be weeks or a few months to put together,” said Stewart.

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“This is a complicated public policy framework that needs to be established to really tackle an issue that is hurting a lot of families.”

Nonetheless, Stewart said that there are major gaps in the system that require urgent action, and that he hopes to hear more concrete plans from the province in the next few months.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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