Events on PEI lately have me thinking about bandaids. You know - we’ve all had that experience of being in a hurry, not preparing well or safely, not thinking of possible consequences - the knife slips and we cut a finger. We grab a bandaid, stem the bloody flow and chastise ourselves for being so careless.
But the thing is, more often than not, the bandaid doesn’t stick don’t you find? It gets wet and falls off, it is on an awkward joint and falls off when we use that finger, or it just isn’t good enough quality to stick.
I attended one of the Mothers Helping Mothers forums on Mental Health last week. Brave - might I say “mighty” - Island women stepped forward, one after the other, and told difficult and personal stories of their experiences seeking help for mental health concerns. As I listened I couldn’t help but reflect, “Mental health services are NOT supposed to make things worse.” An uncomfortable reflection for a mental health professional to be sitting with.
Long waits in an emergency department without contact with a skilled mental health professional or even a compassionate frontline worker, leaving an appointment with a medical professional with no plan for follow-up, frequent changes of health providers with long waits with no plan in between, helpline calls that are not answered, feeling that your historical knowledge about your child doesn’t matter. These are only a few of the experiences that we heard.
The historical plan for provision of mental health services in PEI has included using a significant portion of the allocated budget (well below the recommended 9% of the health budget) on expensive professionals: psychiatrists. Psychiatrists may be an important part of the solution for some people facing a specific category of mental health concerns but psychiatrists are not the solution, neither for those individuals nor for the majority of mental health issues that Islanders are experiencing. An emergency visit with a psychiatrist can be helpful if it is in the context of a system that builds resiliency and knowledge of health wellness, has qualified health practitioners and programs that are effective and, above all, demands of its workers compassion, integrity, and a do no harm ethic. To leave an emergency psychiatric appointment with medications, and little else in hand, is like leaving an emergency department with a bandaid for a severed finger. Those are the bandaids that fall off as soon as we get home.
The current government’s approach, in my opinion, reflects reactive, hurried, just-get-it-done decision making that does not adequately plan for unintended consequences - that, as I mentioned above, is how harm is done. We are in possession of the hope, promise, and fine words of a new Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. The Strategy recognizes that the challenges to providing the right service, in the right place, at the right time to all Islanders are substantial and both financial and systemic. Are the government and the health service professions willing to engage in the systemic overhaul and self-evaluation that is necessary to make real changes in our mental health delivery system? Are they willing to allocate or re-direct the necessary funds to support treatments that are more than bandaid solutions?
If government implements the recommendations of the Strategy and stays true to the goals it sets out we'll be heading in the right direction. However, our governments have an unfortunate history of ignoring strategies or implementing changes and programs which feel expedient but are insufficient for the coordinated and comprehensive long-term vision that is badly needed. We'll be keeping a close watch to make sure they follow through and get the progress that Islanders need.