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Opinion: Mental health care is health care and feds need to fulfill funding promises

Local and provincial governments do their part, where is the federal government support?

The federal government needs to do more… to provide better mental health supports. This sentence really could have ended in so many different ways. Last month, I wrote about how, after 30 years of abandoning housing investments, the feds need to get back into the housing game. Before that it was childcare, and before that about how we need a national wildfire fighting force. Despite record investments by the province of B.C. across so many social portfolios, the multiple crises we’re facing rely so heavily on the federal government waking up to the needs of everyday Canadians.

Mental health care is health care. But I consistently hear concerns that there needs to be better mental health care in Canada. Indeed, if Canadians could easily and affordably access better mental health supports, it would not only be life changing for so many, but the benefits would be seen throughout struggling sectors such as health care, education, addiction, and our criminal justice system. In B.C., it is estimated that one in five interactions with police involve someone with a mental health disorder.

But suffering from mental health or addiction struggles is not a crime and should not be treated as such. For me, this is what is at the heart of the Car 40 Program that was announced for Penticton this past summer. The ‘Car Program’ or more formally known as the Mobile Integrated Crisis Response is an innovative Provincial program where specialized crisis-response teams pair a police officer with a health-care professional to better respond to mental-health calls made to the police. Teams provide on-site emotional and mental-health assessments, crisis intervention and referrals to appropriate services in the community. In Penticton the program is built on partnerships with City Hall, our local RCMP detachment and Interior Health. These teams help free up police resources to focus on crime while at the same time ensure vulnerable people in crisis because of mental health challenges are met with compassion and appropriate care.

The program has had very good feedback in several large cities in BC and has been expanded to include Penticton, Vernon, and seven other smaller centres this summer. In total, the province will add $3M to its Safer Communities Action Plan to support the Car Program.

So where is the Federal Government on doing their part as promised?

Alongside my colleague Gord Johns, the NDP Mental Health and Harm Reduction Critic, we have been urging the Liberals to keep their promises around the Canada Mental Health Transfer. Still there is no funding in sight and no specific or measurable funds have been provided for community mental health and substance use treatment. People’s lives are on the line – and they shouldn’t have to rely on our overcrowded emergency rooms or first responders as a primary resource for help. With 35 per cent of Canadians experiencing severe mental health issues it’s unconscionable to hold back on health funding.

Again, mental health care is health care. No one should have to decide between filling their fridge or getting the quality health care they need. But unfortunately, Canadians are having to make tough choices. That’s why people were expecting Justin Trudeau to include real mental health supports in his government’s new health care agreement with the provinces and territories – but Canadians have yet again been disappointed by the Liberals.

The government needs to be doing everything possible to reduce barriers people face when they reach out for help. New Democrats are urging the Liberals to stop delaying and increase mental health spending to expand access to care, reduce strain on emergency rooms and policing, reduce the high costs of services for patients, and put supports in place to fight Canada’s toxic drug crisis.

I commend the provincial and local governments who have rallied together for programs such as Car 40. We will keep fighting to make sure people suffering from mental health issues and substance use disorders also get the help they were promised from our federal government.

— Richard Cannings is the MP for South Okanagan Kootenays

READ MORE: Penticton to get Car 40 program finally

About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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