New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard promised accountability when revealing what the government calls its five-year addictions and mental health “action plan.”
The province says less than 50 per cent of “high priority cases” are receiving treatment within “national benchmarks,” and that there has been a 16-per cent increase in demand for mental health and addictions services over the last five years.
That’s been amplified as a result of COVID-19.
“The real crux of the services that are needed, that I’ve seen since having the stakeholder engagement and coming to this file, is the response time,” Shephard said. “That’s why these walk-in clinics are so important… that’s why the mobile mental health crisis units are so important.”
The province is promising to create 13 walk-in mental health and addictions clinics across the province by October, similar to one that recently opened in Campbellton.
Shephard said that’s proved successful in getting people seen faster.
Within the first six weeks of opening, there were 97 walk-in appointments, she said. Shephard said 94 per cent of those people were satisfied within a single visit and a waitlist of 37 people was eliminated.
“This is exciting and I can’t wait to get more clinics up and running,” she said.
The province is expanding the RCMP’s Crime Reduction Unit by year-end, which will have 13 officers.
There will also be a “creation of various forms of supportive housing” by 2023.
A provincial treatment centre for youth is to open its doors in 2024, Shepard said. A centre was under construction in Campbellton prior to then-Health-Minister Ted Flemming announcing in December 2019 it’d move to Moncton.
These are all “key priority initiatives” the province highlighted, with goals of improving access to services, provide earlier intervention, and reduce drug-related crime.
Liberal opposition MLA Rob McKee, who represents Moncton Centre, says there are pros and cons to the plan but “the devil will be in the details.”
“As of right now, there’s been little shared in regard to implementation,” he said in a virtual media ‘scrum’ with reporters following the provincial announcement.
The Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick is also reviewing the five-year plan.
The organization’s head says they’ve seen a spike in demand as a result of the pandemic.
“People worried about their coworkers, not sure how to help them, worried about their children, and the stress that kids are feeling, parents with kids home under the age of 18 are really struggling right now,” Christa Baldwin, the executive director of CMHA of New Brunswick says. “And we’re seeing things like an increase in substance use.”
The province continues speaking about the importance of its “economic recovery,” but Baldwin says that doesn’t happen if mental health and addictions challenges aren’t addressed.
“There will be no economic recovery if you do not have a healthy workforce,” Baldwin says. “So we need those services in place from the beginning, not that crisis reactionary period.”
Shephard says early intervention is indeed a priority.
“We can utilize professions such as counselling therapists, social workers, to help intervene in those issues earlier so that people don’t progress to needs to have a higher acuity of need.
COVID-19 and its strain on workers
Global News recently spoke with Fredericton-based psychologist Dr. Shannon Glenn, who is working longer hours but still has to turn people away due to increased demand.
Glenn said she’s likely not the only psychologist in that position.
“We find ourselves kind of taking more clients when we might be full,” Glenn said in an interview Feb. 12. “I’m now over-full, working kind of through lunch breaks, that sort of thing, trying to meet the demand.”
“To know that I’m able to see (only) this many people but the need is (so) big, is difficult,” Glenn said. “And not only that, when I say no, I don’t know where they’re going to go because I know most of my colleagues are in the same boat.”
She said mental illness cases among her clients have become more severe and some people require more frequent treatment.
“No matter what you’re going through in your life, now there’s this extra layer of stress associated with the pandemic,” she said.
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