Over the past week we the BC Green Caucus has been asking government about safe supply, decriminalization, mental health and addictions. We have heard condolences but what is missing is the urgent provincial action the mental health crisis requires.
There too many stories of British Columbians who have presented to a medical provider in a mental health crisis and they were undermined, belittled and taunted. But, when people present with a physical ailment they get the support they need.
There is no doubt questions about the actions of the provincial government on mental health and addictions are challenging. The responses to these questions are disheartening and disappointing.
Let’s do a recap of what my colleague and I have asked in question period this week. We asked about safe supply, and the government said that it’s in the hands of the medical community. We asked about decriminalization, and the government said that it’s in the hands of the feds. We’ve had sincere condolences, but we’re missing the urgent provincial action the mental health crisis requires.
Where this government is falling short, British Columbians are stepping up, desperately trying to help each other. For example, two of my constituents, Ella and Emma, recently started a Facebook group called PES. PES stands for Pathetic Excuse for Support and is a place for people looking to share their experiences after trying to access emergency mental health services in British Columbia.
In just a couple of weeks, the group has grown to nearly 400 members, and the stories people are sharing are deeply, deeply concerning. Instead of care and compassion, many who sought help felt further traumatized by the stigma, discrimination and judgment they encountered in our health care system.
My question is to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. When is this government going to take responsibility for their policies, ones that have embedded a culture of systemic discrimination and bias around mental health in our health care system?
Hon. S. Malcolmson:
Thank you to the member for the question.
We are working overtime to build up that system of care that was not in place when our government first took government in 2017. As Dr. Henry said at that time, it’s hard to fight a public health emergency — and now a particularly accentuated mental health crisis — when there was no system of care in place. So we’ve been both fighting these public health crises while building up that continuum of care.
With the powers that we have, this is Canada’s first Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to be singularly focused on building up that system of care — expanding low- and no-cost counselling in the face of the pandemic. We have opened up eight new Foundries, mental health support centres, run — you know, focused — designed by youth and focused on youth and young adults. Increasing suicide support for workplace mental health. Training new mental health workers. Opening B.C.’s first mental health and substance-use urgent response centre in Surrey. Opening a new 75-bed mental health and substance-use wellness centre at Royal Columbian in August.
There is much, much more to do. But we are using the authority and the confidence given to us by voters in British Columbia to build out a system of care, where there was none.
Hon. S. Malcolmson:
Anybody in crisis now, please reach out. Our virtual and online and text-based supports, which you can see at gov.bc.ca/covid19mentalhealthsupports, are available for you now.
Thank you, Minister.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
The question was about what the minister is doing to address systemic bias and discrimination that has stigmatized people who are presenting themselves in a mental health crisis. I did not ask for a list. I asked for specific actions that are being taken to address that.
I’ve heard many stories of how our system treats people when they are suffering in a mental health crisis. Some may be offered medication and told they’re seeking attention. Their friends and family are told their loved ones are just attention-seekers and not a threat to take their own lives.
But all too often that’s not the case, Mr. Speaker. I can personally name more people than I wish to count. However, if they do attempt to take their lives and return to hospital with bodily injuries, then they are promptly attended to. When their condition was deemed mental, they were undermined, belittled and taunted. But as soon as their ailment was physical, they were put on life support.
Mr. Speaker, these are my peers, largely the victim of systemic bias and discrimination toward people suffering a mental health crisis. When that intersects with ethnicity and culture, it’s as toxic as the drug supply that we’ve talked about this week. Mothers and fathers have lost their children, and children have lost their fathers and mothers because government policies have made an arbitrary distinction between mental and physical health.
My question, through you, hon. Speaker, is to the Premier. At what point is his government going to start treating the brain like it’s part of the body?
Hon. S. Malcolmson:
I apologize to the member. I did not hear the racial bias part of his question. I did not mean to not address this serious matter head-on.
As was discouragingly confirmed in the report that we commissioned from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, now titled In Plain Sight, there is systemic racism in British Columbia’s health care system. It is acting as a barrier to people getting access to that health treatment that they need, and this is particularly pointed in the addictions and mental health fields. That was her finding.
For that, our government has unequivocally apologized and indicated that this is now built into every mandate letter, every instruction that the Premier has given us to root out systemic racism and to remove it as a barrier to people accessing the services that they need and deserve.
I share the member’s aim that heart and mind and every form of physical and mental health is treated on an equal basis — that there should not be barriers in place. This is exactly the system of care that we are working hard to build up. We have got much more work to do, and any barrier to access to mental health treatment on a racial basis or any other basis, I agree, is unacceptable.