'There are many people in crises': P.E.I. chief of mental health calls for better supports

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'There are many people in crises': P.E.I. chief of mental health calls for better supports

'There are many people in crises': P.E.I. chief of mental health calls for better supports

P.E.I.'s chief of mental health and addictions, Dr. Heather Keizer, is concerned about federal money earmarked for mental health being diverted to schools.

$400,000 this year is planned to go toward public health nurses in Island schools, which Keizer said is like "planting a garden when you've got a fire over here."

Keizer said there's nothing wrong with having supports in schools, but a mobile crisis unit would be a better use of resources. The unit could help people not only in schools but other places as well without having to be based in schools.

'Funding is critical'

"We need safety for our staff. We need safety for our patients. We need good responsive care that meets people where they're at. And that is where funding is critical," she said.

Keizer acknowledged the mental health system is in a difficult place with more people seeking mental health help — partly because of less stigma and partly because of an aging population.

Also a number of psychiatrists have recently abruptly left P.E.I. she said. 

"I do believe that there are many people in crises," said Keizer. "At the moment we are at a difficult place to be very frank."

Looking to attract more psychiatrists

She said part of the solution is to beef up outpatient services such as counsellors and mental health clinics in communities so people don't get to a place where they are going to emergency or are in crisis.

Keizer said there's an action plan going forward. She hopes funding will be realigned and that psychiatrists are more effectively recruited by searching for 4th year students to move to P.E.I.

Getting young, high-calibre people to come and stay and who are willing to train will attract more doctors, she said.

Keizer also wants more consultation with the province about where resources are needed most in the future such as responsive care that meets people where they are.

Strategy needed

Keizer also acknowledged P.E.I. is behind other provinces because mental health support has gone without investment for decades. She said it's not good enough to say there's a strategy — that the province needs a strategy in action.

"We're really stepping in where there has been very modest capital investment, very modest operational investment over decades in mental health so we're kind of behind, quite a bit compared to our peers in other provinces," said Keizer.

She said there is coverage with doctors stepping up to cover schedules — including herself.

"Going forward we're going to be in an uncomfortable place for a little while, but the good thing is that we are actually successfully recruiting good people," she said.

A doctor is coming to P.E.I. from England who is a specialist in mobile crises who is starting Aug. 1. Keizer said there's other interest, but it takes time.

Schools can deliver supports 'closest to where people are'

Health P.E.I. said the $400,000 being invested in public health nurses in Island schools comes from P.E.I.'s Health Accord funding.

"Mental Health and Addictions was actively engaged in discussions to determine how this year's Health Accord funding would be invested," said Health PEI CEO Dr. Michael Mayne in a statement.

"Clinical and community evidence supports that mental health services are best delivered closest to where people are — for students, it's in schools."

Mayne cited the Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, which points to the need for early intervention and better supports for young people.

"These resources will be part of the provincial health care system, but will be providing care at the school level — services will be delivered directly in the schools," he said.

"Additionally, we are exploring initiatives such as Mobile Mental Health Crisis Response Teams, Forensic Services, and additional Community Mental Health resources."

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