Over the past few months, I’ve collected data on mental-health care needs and services in Vancouver.
I’ve been doing this because, like the head of psychiatry at St. Paul’s Hospital told me yesterday, “Our stats keep going up.”
So here I’ve collected some of those numbers in one place.
The red and orange lines are emergency room visits by people experiencing a mental-health crisis and/or a drug overdose. They’re combined numbers for Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital.
The blue line is Vancouver Police Department apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act, which permits officers to detain individuals deemed to have a mental disorder and to pose a threat to themselves or others.
The green line is the number of people (averaged over each year) on B.C. Housing waiting lists for supportive housing sites that include mental-health services.
I couldn’t present everything here that I wanted. The data I have on mental-health supportive housing waiting lists is especially deficient. For months, health authorities and B.C. Housing refused to disclose waiting-list data. Statistics obtained from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and B.C. Housing through freedom of information legislation reveal the extent to which those agencies are overwhelmed. But the picture I have remains incomplete.
For example, I still don’t have data from Vancouver Coastal Health that I’m satisfied lets me illustrate how its supportive housing waiting lists have changed over time. VCH has so far only provided me with waiting list times for one specific point for which they’ve averaged data over a period of years. They claim their system doesn’t allow them to provide me with a picture that compares one year to the next.
That said, the graph provides a decent snapshot of a problem this is obviously getting worse.
A few things to keep in mind:
These data sets largely concern a specific category of people that B.C. service providers describe as severely addicted and/or mentally ill, or SAMIs, for short. While not everyone represented on the graph struggles with concurrent disorders of both a mental illness and an addiction issue, many do.
A single person can be represented in multiple points on the graph. I’m sure that quite a few people appear in all four data sets.
While the blue line’s rise is the most subtle, it’s worth special attention. Those are often 911 calls to the VPD that result in an officer temporarily stripping an individual of their free will. While the other data sets on the graph minimize the perception of this indicator’s growth, the blue line has increased by 33 percent over the last four years.
The Vancouver Police Department has made a public plea for help from the province. “We need a shift from dealing with the crisis to preventing the crisis from occurring in the first place," said chief Jim Chu speaking alongside Mayor Gregor Robertson in September 2013. More than one year later, they continue to push for more resources to focus on mental-health care.