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Les Leyne: One problem politicians will ignore

There was quite a contrast this week between real-life problems and political problems. The campaign teams spent much of Tuesday jockeying for position.

There was quite a contrast this week between real-life problems and political problems.

The campaign teams spent much of Tuesday jockeying for position. New Democrat leader Adrian Dix did a big news conference outlining plans to further subsidize the film industry in B.C. It’s a sexy, exciting industry that has been enjoying breaks for years. Politicians talk about the jobs, but they’re drawn to it by the glamour, just like everyone else.

The B.C. Liberals spent the day maximizing any advantage to be had from the fact Premier Christy Clark is willing to debate Dix, but he’s ducking the invitation. He’s hung up on the need for all the parties to be involved. She wants to take him on one-to-one. So there are games to be played around that argument.

While all that was unfolding, something else was going on. Representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released a lengthy critique of youth mental-health services in B.C. It’s a lot more important than anything that was occupying the political parties.

But I’m willing to bet the political campaigns will go out of their way to avoid getting too immersed in it.

I’m expecting her lengthy report on the youth mental-health crisis in B.C. to be a one-off. The report got the requisite half-day’s worth of attention. Colleague Lindsay Kines extracted brief, cautious reactions from government and opposition politicians.

And that will be about it. The desperate situations that some teens with problems face is just too sensitive and raw a topic for politicians to talk about on the campaign trail.

And the government’s options for helping them, and repeated attempts to make a difference, are just too complex a subject to address. There are no applause lines to be written into campaign speeches when it comes to youth mental health.

It’s a frightening, agonizing problem that gets grappled with mostly behind closed doors.

Despite some serious attempts to address it over the years, Turpel-Lafond found serious shortcomings in the current system. Teens in the transition years before legal age get caught in the emergency-room revolving doors, in and out of a place that isn’t right for them in the first place.

Or families cope on their own with long wait times that reflect an approach that doesn’t match real needs.

The high-level plans that government has come up with more than once are fine, she said. But they aren’t nearly enough.

“We have to move from high-level plans to actual service on the ground.”

Although it’s a lengthy report, it has only one recommendation. She wants to a see a new minister of state for youth mental health. That office would be the single point of accountability for the disparate offices that now try to provide various services.

The striking thing about the report is the source of the conclusions. Turpel-Lafond wrote it, but it’s based on interactions with more than 800 people. And most of them are working within the system now.

So the findings about barriers to care, lack of options and shortages across the board come mostly from people dealing first-hand with the problems every day.

Years ago, the NDP government announced a $125-million mental-health plan. There was a notorious revelation later that not one nickel was ever budgeted for the plan.

It’s not quite the same today. But Turpel-Lafond did find a huge gap between the service plans and the policies that get written in the executive suites and what is actually happening when young people have psychotic breaks and show up late at night in the ER.

One service plan commits to offering a wide range of interventions to help everyone who needs it.

But the only performance-measure target is to increase the number of therapy sessions done over the phone.

Turpel-Lafond said the mental-health system isn’t a system at all. It’s a patchwork of services that confuses everyone and makes getting help “often near to impossible.”

All this is hard for politicians to talk about, given that the easy rhetoric about fixes and long-range plans is proven to be pretty empty.

But somebody is going to wind up owning this problem after the election.

They might not be ready to talk, but a lot of people are hoping somebody does something about it.