Improving access to mental health was brought to the spotlight Monday at a virtual forum where candidates representing Nova Scotia’s three main political parties were present.
Progressive Conservative candidate Brian Comer for Cape Breton East, NDP candidate Claudia Chender for Dartmouth South and Liberal candidate Zach Churchill for Yarmouth discussed how each of their parties would address the current challenges regarding mental health, both for now, and beyond.
The forum was organized by the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, the Canadian Mental Health Association Halifax-Dartmouth Branch, and the Canadian Mental Health Association Nova Scotia Division.
It was a “nonpartisan forum” meant to provide people with an opportunity to hear what the candidates had to say around mental health and fixing a crisis impacting all parts of the province.
Here’s a brief rundown of what each candidate had to say
Liberals candidate Zach Churchill
Churchill, the current Minister of Health and Wellness and the MLA for Yarmouth since 2010, said more mental health supports have become available in schools, hospitals, and communities in the last few years.
He said the governing LIberals were focused on increasing supports for youth and the most vulnerable who have been experiencing increased anxiety and mental health challenges.
“We are dealing with troubling wait times to access support for mental health needs,” said Churchill. “The health care system has been built to deal with acute health illness relatively well, so that if you do have a mental health illness, that is acute.”
But that hasn’t been the case for “non-urgent” mental health challenges.
This is why Churchill said their government focused on improving access to mental health services, particularly in schools.
“We have seen an improvement particularly with having these access points in our schools, support for our teacher teachers when they’re dealing with trauma, as well as having trauma recognition and therapy support available for our students,” he said.
PC candidate Brian Comer
Since the beginning of the Nova Scotia election campaign, Comer said the Progressive Conservative party has been pushing for the acknowledgment that mental health should be treated the same as physical health.
He said the current funding allocated in the 2020 budget was only around six per cent even though, he said, research from the World Health Organization advocated for 10 per cent funding for government agencies.
Comer said more resources need to be allocated, especially when it comes to prevention, “which is critical in mental health addiction issues.”
“We have a system currently where during a crisis, you go to the E.R., you wait hours and hours…and oftentimes you don’t get the follow-up care that you need,” said Comer.
He said it’s critical that Nova Scotia has a portfolio dedicated to mental health additions to create accountability.
“We need to have…someone responsible for wait times, that we know how many suicides happened in the province last year, which we don’t…these are the sort of things that we need to know to improve our system.”
NDP candidate Claudia Chender
Chender said the NDP vision and plan is centered around a mental health bill of rights.
“Anyone experiencing psychological distress or mental disorders should be treated with dignity and respect and are entitled to prompt and appropriate treatment,” Chender said.
She said the province needs to have integrated services for people requiring care and that people in crisis need to access the right supports at the right time and place.
Chender said the NDP recommends 10 per cent funding for mental health care.
“We’re currently at four per cent and most provinces have not achieved that 10 per cent goal, but we’re in the bottom of the pack,” she said.
If the NDP party was elected, Chender said they’d establish same-day, next-day mental health clinics and those would be accessible immediately when people need care.
“The wait times, as we discussed, are incredibly long. And when people are experiencing distress, they can’t afford to wait,” she said.
“Lastly, we would establish emergency health teams, response teams for folks in crisis across the province. We have something like this…and it does need to be expanded.”