Despite mental health crisis, fund goes unspent for nearly 50 years

New Brunswick has let a mental health trust fund languish for 47 years, the money unspent, despite the difficulties of people with addictions and mental health problems getting treatment, says the province's auditor general.

Paul Martin told legislators last week the fund, bequeathed in someone's will to the province in 1977, was worth $1.6 million last year, thanks to good stewardship by the Department of Finance and Treasury Board. The original donation was closer to $86,000 but has grown thanks to interest.

He had fewer kind words for the Department of Health, which is responsible for spending the money. His report stated that officials there did not have adequate understanding of the trust and did not have in place adequate mechanisms to allow for the use of the trust, curiously named Mental Health Trust Number 9.

The original intent of the trust was "designated for psychoanalysis treatment of deserving New Brunswickers," bequeathed from a person who wasn't named in the report. But there are only 336 psychoanalysts in Canada, most of whom work in Ontario and Quebec, with none in Atlantic Canada.

The province in the past applied to the courts to change the use of the funds, but the request was rejected because the government hadn't demonstrated enough effort to use the funds for their intended purpose, the report stated.

Martin told reporters at a Fredericton press conference last week that the province couldn't just drain the fund for other mental health services.

"They don't have the choice just to do as they like with the money," the auditor general said. "If they cannot follow the terms of the trust, they'd have to look at what the next options are. I'm not sure what those would be. Perhaps they'd have to go to court to a judge to see if the trust can be realigned, perhaps they can use it for other mental health matters that are close to psychoanalysis. You know, terms and treatments have changed in almost 50 years."

Psychoanalysis is a mental health therapy that looks at the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind and brings repressed fears into the conscious mind by techniques such as dream interpretation.

The auditor general noted in his report that demand for addictions and mental health services continues to rise in New Brunswick, with less than half of high priority cases receiving treatment within national benchmarks.

Timely access to mental health treatment has been established as a key action area for the health department, he added.

"There's an absolute need in the mental health area," Martin told reporters. "There are monies that can be there to help. So somebody should get at this and get on it, to figure out how we can use this for the right reasons."

The independent legislative officer never found out why the trust was labelled number nine. He said it's possible other trusts had been set up before it, but he couldn't find anyone in the health department who could answer that question.

In response to the auditor general, the health department said it would come up with a plan to ensure proper use of the funds as per the terms of the trust, with a target date of October. It also pledged to give regular updates to finance and treasury board on how the trust would be used.

John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Gleaner