VANCOUVER— More than half a decade since the Vancouver Police Department last raised the alarm about the growing reliance on police and emergency rooms to fill gaps in mental health services, the problem continues to grow, says New Democrat mental health and addictions critic Sue Hammell.
“We’ve seen that cutting vital mental health services as this government has done simply results in greater costs overall,” said Hammell. “Worse, by failing to offer appropriate services, we’re failing to give people who suffer from mental health issues the treatment they need to get better. It’s a lose-lose situation; we’re spending more money to give people less support.”
The Mayor of Vancouver and the Chief of the Vancouver Police Department raised the alarm again on Friday about the growing use of police and emergency room resources as front line mental health services. They issued a five-point plan to address what they are calling a “mental health crisis.”
“I was disappointed to see that the health minister’s response to the suggestions made by Mayor Gregor Robertson and Chief Constable Jim Chu about how to tackle the escalating social, policing and health costs of mental health was to quote budget documents,” said Hammell. “Mental health issues don’t go away if you refuse to fund services appropriately. They just get moved into someone else’s budget.”
This week at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, community leaders will be debating whether or not it makes sense to reopen Riverview as part of the solution to a growing demand for mental health services.
“Given that we’re seeing this government eliminate mental health services and slash the hours of facilities that are currently available, we are moving in the exact opposite direction of reopening facilities at Riverview,” said Hammell. “Facilities located on the Riverview lands could be part of the solution, but the larger issue is a lack of community-based supports for people struggling with mental health issues.”
Hammell noted that moving away from an institutionalization model was the right thing to do, but the B.C. Liberals have failed to provide mental health supports to replace what Riverview offered.
“The Liberals are so fixated on one line item in their budget over another that they have lost sight of the bigger picture,” said Hammell. “Downloading the costs of mental health to police departments and emergency rooms isn’t saving anyone a cent.”
New Democrats are calling on the Liberal government to join the majority of British Columbians who recognize that strong and accessible mental health services are an essential part of safe and healthy communities.