The New Brunswick government plans to strengthen its mental health crisis and addictions response, by implementing 21 new recommendations.
The recommendations were submitted by the Department of Health, as well as the Horizon and Vitalité regional health authorities.
The changes are meant to enhance the province’s recently-announced five-year mental health and addictions plan, and includes recommendations on how to improve staffing, education, training, and procedures in the crisis response.
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said Wednesday that recent events have “highlighted the realities of suicide in the province” and also identified some gaps in the response.
“I would love to think that we’ll never have another tragedy. I’m a realist to know that that probably isn’t going to happen, but what I can say is that we’ll be doing everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she said.
In February, the family of 16-year-old Lexi Daken called for changes to the mental health care system in the province after the Fredericton teen died by suicide.
The Grade 10 student’s mother said the family initially took Lexi to the Doctor Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital on Feb. 18 after a guidance counsellor noticed she was experiencing mental health issues.
It took eight hours for Lexi to be assessed by a mental health professional.
According to her family, after those eight hours, a nurse told Lexi that calling a psychiatrist would take another two hours.
The family said Lexi felt like a burden after she was asked something along the lines of, “Are you really going to make us call them?”
Lexi went home that night, receiving no immediate help. Less than a week later, she died.
Education, emergency departments, community addiction and mental health services
The recommendations include providing trauma-informed care training to emergency department staff, police and other first responders. The training will be designed for staff in busy emergency department environments.
In addition to developing new educational material, the recommendations call for the finalization of the proposed draft Department of Health Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention Crisis Response Plan.
“Once finalized, implement accepted recommendations for suicide prevention, intervention and post-intervention,” the province notes.
Emergency departments will also implement a standardize suicide care “pathway” for screening, assessment, intervention, safety planning and “lethal means reduction” for every patient who arrives at the department with suicidal thoughts.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health is being asked to provide funding for support staff in both regional health authorities to address community addiction and mental health services.
“This is going to be a more supportive crisis management system but also, more importantly, it implements and enhances what we presented in our interdepartmental five-year action plan,” said Shephard.
— with a file from Karla Renic
More to come