B.C. health minister concedes Vancouver's mental-health crisis could get worse

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      For more than a year now, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver police chief Jim Chu have together called attention to what they describe as a “mental-health crisis”. On September 17, city council received a report that includes statistics supporting that characterization.

      This week, B.C.’s health minister acknowledged that report and warned that the situation could get worse.

      “Will we see those numbers continue to go up?” said Terry Lake, speaking to reporters on September 22. “I hope not. But at the same time, we recognize that around North America—it’s not just in British Columbia—you are seeing police departments having to deal with mental-health issues.”

      On August 27, the Straight reported that during the first six months of 2014, Vancouver police made 1,470 apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act, which permits officers to arrest and detain individuals deemed to have a mental disorder and to pose a threat to themselves or others.

      That number represents an average of roughly eight apprehensions every day and marks a five-year high for the period of January 1 to June 30.

      Vancouver hospitals have similarly noticed a cause for alarm. According to the report that went to council, Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital together registered a 43-percent increase in emergency mental-health visits between 2009 and 2013.

      That document, called the “Mayor’s Task Force on Health and Addictions Phase 1 Report”, provides an update on recommendations the city made in September 2013. It notes that the province has not acted on a request that it add 300 beds for long-term psychiatric care for patients experiencing more complicated mental-health challenges.

      Lake said that the province plans on creating more residential-care beds for the mentally ill, but it hasn’t yet determined exactly how many are required.

      “At the end of the day, they may be right that we need 300,” he said. “But we don’t have confidence in that number at this time. But we’re certainly working though that and not ruling that out into the future.”

      Lake emphasized that the province prefers community care as opposed to long-term institutionalization. (The city agrees, but suggests residential care may be required for a small group of individuals who struggle with severe addictions and/or mental illness [SAMIs].)

      According to the mayor’s task force report, there are an estimated 2,000 “severely ill” people living in hotels in the Downtown Eastside who are not receiving the care they require for mental-health and addiction challenges.

      Lake maintained that care is being provided.

      “In the old days, the institutions were very visible but the patients were not,” he explained. “Today, the patients are very visible. They are in the community. And sometimes a lot of the supports that are there aren’t visible to the community.”

      Lake noted that the province has increased the number of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams working in Vancouver, and made more money available for regional authorities’ mental health-care programs.

      “We understand that mental-health and addiction issues are important challenges in British Columbia,” he said. “We are dedicating an awful lot of resources to that challenge.”

      The minister was responding to reporters’ questions while in North Vancouver to commemorate the completion of the Robert H.N. Ho Centre for Psychiatry and Education.

      Lake described the HOpe Centre as a hub for community care. He invoked the memory of Kelty Patrick Dennehy, a 17-year-old man from Whistler who committed suicide in 2001, and emphasized the importance of prevention.

      “If we can reach out to those families that are experiencing those challenges and provide resources to prevent them from having a catastrophe like that happen, that’s the goal,” Lake said. “Not to have more people hospitalized but to actually head that off.”

      Chasing a crisis
      Through September 2014 the Straight ran a series of articles exploring how Vancouver cares for the severely mentally ill.
      Part one: Vancouver police still seeking help to prevent a mental-health crisis
      Part two: Amid a mental-health crisis, Vancouver care providers revisit the debate on institutionalization
      Part three: Vancouver service providers fail to get ahead of a mental-health crisis
      Part four: B.C. prisons lock mentally-ill offenders in isolation

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      Sep 25, 2014 at 7:29pm

      Weird, I would have thought that doing absolutely nothing for years on end and dumping mentally ill people onto the streets to fend for themselves would have been a real winner. Once again, a Vancouver problem has to reach critical mass before any of the geniuses in charge take notice.

      Seriously, I've been around and there has to be more walking wounded mental cases per city block here than anywhere in North America.

      More task forces and blather!

      Elites War On The Rest Of Us

      Sep 26, 2014 at 6:20am

      Gordon Campbell has cut quite a path of destruction hasn't he?


      Sep 26, 2014 at 9:03am

      Unfortunately Vancouver has become a Mecca for the mentally ill. It has plentiful drugs and a place to call home (the DTES) with plenty of free medical aid. It's the old adage of 'build it and they will come'. Vancouver has built a multi-million dollar open-air sanatorium in the DTES and people from outside the city and across the country are flocking there. It's stupid and the other municipalities should be forced to help pay for it or open their own facilities.

      Brad Teeter

      Sep 26, 2014 at 10:50am

      OUR CONTEMPT for mental illness: Remember the slogan..."closer to home"......the Riverview "institution" was closed years ago with the promise that sick folks would be moved "closer to home"....home?...a cardboard box under the bridge, in a doorway or park bench ...the deadly broken promise was trumpeted by the NDP!...today, the piles of wretched, emaciated bodies grow higher with each service cut by successive, greedy LIBERAL governments. Who is responsible...all of us!

      @Brad Teeter

      Sep 26, 2014 at 10:58am

      "Who is responsible...all of us!"

      Unless you have a PhD, MD or other advanced degree, there is no realistic nexus between yourself and what has happened. The only input into the system you have is a vote once every few years. That vote has zero direct impact on which PhDs and MDs are going to "manage" the healthcare system. Sure, there is some input from staffers, but almost all of the ones contributing to policy will have at least a masters degree. So "who is responsible" must be our Universities. They are the ones "training" these geniuses who have made a hash of everything. Scapegoating common people who get one vote once every four years as against the intelligentsia who get paid gobs of money to, quite obviously, do little more than make things worse, is perverse.

      The problem we have is one of our education system, especially our higher education system. Political parties, voters, etc. are all smokescreens for those who really run the show, the University educated. They're not half as smart as their state-funded Universities make them appear to be.

      Smack MacDougal

      Sep 26, 2014 at 3:10pm

      And once again you see the news media — political nexus in action, scaring up fear among the easily manipulated to show why people need politicians, government, policing and incarceration, this time psychiatric incarceration.

      1,470 apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act amount to an insignificant
      0.25 of 1% of all Vancouverites. That's only a puny four arrests a day.

      Likely a significant portion of those 1,470 are the same ones having yet suffering psychotic episode during the year and thus in need of yet another arrest.

      Bring back institutional care

      Sep 28, 2014 at 9:59am

      Boxing up mentally ill people with addictions in the hell holes that are SROs should be criminal. Most of the hotels are absolutely fucking disgusting and the last place you'd want a sick person to be. Bring back the institutions. We can absolutely make them better & more humane than they were in the past. Having the mentally ill released in the community is a FAILED EXPERIMENT. Wake up and accept some people need our help! Turning them out on the street is NOT HELPING.