B.C. Greens unveil $1B plan for mental health

Citing a failing mental health system that’s been laid bare by the pandemic, the B.C. Green party promised that, if elected, it would invest $1 billion toward mental health services under the province’s Medical Services Plan.

During a news conference in Victoria, B.C. green party leader Sonia Furstenau said Monday that more people are struggling with mental health issues due to the stress of COVID-19.

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She said mental health issues should be treated with the same priority as other physical health ailments.

“Mental health care is failing at all levels, from early intervention for children and youth through to tertiary care for adults with complex psychological problems,” said Furstenau, who was joined by Nicole Duncan, the Green candidate for Oak Bay-Gordon Head. “We must act quickly and decisively to protect our mental health as we did our physical health,”

A $1 billion investment over four years would address mental health issues within the existing MSP, to ensure that cost is not a barrier to receiving mental health support, Furstenau said. That funding would cover a range of initiatives such as increasing mental health treatment options for those struggling with anxiety or depression, early intervention programs for young people and families, community-based mental health options and enhanced counselling outreach services for the homeless community.

Research shows that lower income groups, people with fewer years of education and vulnerable or minority groups are most impacted by lack of access to mental health care, Furstenau said.

She also pointed to a recent province-wide survey of 400,000 British Columbians which found that almost half of respondents found their mental health has worsened during the pandemic. This is due to financial insecurity, job losses, worries about the health of loved ones and isolation, Furstenau said.

Young people face the added stress of housing affordability and the climate emergency, she said.

Furstenau said for many people, even a few appointments with a psychologist would significantly improve their mental health, treatment which some people put off because it’s too expensive.

Furstenau said the party would also accelerate the construction of mental health and addiction rehab facilities and detox beds. The plan would also develop a “loneliness strategy” and run a public information campaign to raise awareness about getting help for mental health issues.

During a virtual town hall meeting Monday evening, NDP leader John Horgan said the party’s promise to build 10 more urgent and primary care centres by 2021 would help people struggling with mental health and addiction because they can go to the centre and be connected with social workers, care aids, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and others who can provide treatment in communities. Horgan also said his government created the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in order to eliminate silos between often overlapping challenges. In April, the ministry under minister Judy Darcy announced a new online mental health counselling and referral service called Here2Talk which offers free support for post-secondary students.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson has accused the NDP of warehousing people with mental health and addictions issues by putting them into hotels without stronger medical supports. Wilkinson said last week a Liberal government would restrict camping in parks, ban panhandling on the street and look at alternative approaches to mental health and addiction emergency calls.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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