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Comment: Link between brain injury and homelessness is undeniable

Brain injury crisis links to mental health and addictions
A view of Greater Victoria from Christmas Hill. TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by the CEO and founder of the CGB Centre for Tramautic Life Losses.

In response to escalating violence in his community, Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog stated, “it’s time for the provincial and federal governments to focus on the consequences of 30 to 40 years of failed social policy around mental health, addictions, trauma and brain injury.”

He is point-on. While it is true that municipalities are responsible for pools, parks and roadways, they are also responsible for ensuring their communities are safe. Therefore, municipal governments have a vital role in the conversation around the intersections of brain injury, mental health and addiction.

On a provincial level, the CGB Centre for Traumatic Life Losses, in partnership with the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia, has launched the B.C. Consensus on Brain Injury.

This three-year research project funded by the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and Vancouver Foundation is designed to gather data and knowledge with an aim to improve best practices in serving individuals with a brain injury and concurrent mental health and substance use challenges.

The link between brain injury and homelessness is undeniable. Research has shown that more than 50 per cent of the homeless community has a brain injury and nearly 70 per cent sustained their first brain injury before becoming homeless.

In the words of Michelle McDonald, executive director of Brain Injury Canada, “there’s many factors that lead to homelessness, but brain injury can be the root cause of some of those factors, such as unemployment, substance use, family breakdown.”

Through collaborative work between stakeholders during the first-ever B.C. Consensus Day, the research team led by Dr. Mauricio Garcia-Barrera, associate professor at UVic and principal investigator on the Consensus Building project, gathered valuable knowledge to better understand this devastating association.

“We identified a vicious cycle in which people who have sustained brain injury and are undiagnosed may self-medicate in order to cope with the cognitive and emotional aftermath, further limiting their ability to access treatment and maintain or secure adequate housing.

“In turn, homelessness places them at high risk for being neglected by the system, falling through the cracks, and subsequently at risk for additional brain injury, mental health, and addictions issues.”

Federally, the CGB Centre for Traumatic Life Losses, along with B.C. Brain Injury Association, Cowichan Valley Brain Injury Society, and Brain Injury Canada have worked closely with Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor to bring forward a private member’s bill. It calls upon the Canadian government to establish a national strategy to support and improve brain injury awareness, prevention and treatment as well as the rehabilitation and recovery of persons living with a brain injury.

Both the B.C. Consensus on Brain Injury and a National Strategy will go a long way in addressing the intersections of brain injury, mental health and addictions and the impact on our citizens, cities, provinces, and country. This is more than a health-care issue and we need action now.

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