National organization urges N.S. to beef up mental health supports

·3 min read

Beverley Cadham and her family know the pain and suffering that can result when a loved one doesn't get the care they desperately want.

In April, Cadham and her family will mark the fourth anniversary of the death of her son, Shaymus Cadham-Higgins, who was 22 years old when he died by suicide.

"If mental health [problems are] growing in nature, then we have to act accordingly to meet the needs and the demands of the individuals in our communities," Beverley Cadham told members of the Nova Scotia legislature's standing committee on community services Tuesday.

Cadham, who is co-director of the Halifax-Dartmouth branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, shared her family's story with the all-party committee to drive home the need for timely access to mental health care.

She described her son as a victim of a system overburdened and unable to cope with the demand.

"He sought out help," she said during the virtual meeting. "He waited three months to hear from them and the crisis got worse and worse and worse, and I was not able to support him. To the best of my ability, I did, but he needed help beyond what I could provide."

Pandemic has exacerbated problem

The association's executive director in Nova Scotia, Pamela Magee, said the arrival of COVID-19 has made things worse for those in search of supports and care.

Jean Laroche/CBC
Jean Laroche/CBC

She said the health-care system was "ill-prepared" to support the growing need for mental health care before the pandemic hit. Although some care has since moved online, Magee said it has not been a solution for those without access to high-speed internet or the proper electronic devices.

"We're hearing this trend also within those that are contemplating suicide and have lost hope," Magee told the politicians.

"They feel that there isn't a door that they can walk through to receive timely care, and adequate care, and they're concerned about their future well-being as a result."

Magee told CBC News the McNeil government does not need to come up with more money. Instead, she suggested a reallocation of funds from the Health Department's $4.8-billion budget.

According to budget documents tabled last February, the governing Liberals had earmarked $316.5 million for mental health and addiction services.

Workload has quadrupled

Magee said that budget should be beefed up to decrease wait times and fund ways to keep Nova Scotians healthy.

"We need to bring in measures, programs and supports that are free and accessible to everyone to keep people healthy ... so that people can come out at the other end of the pandemic healthy," she said.

She estimated the workload at the association has quadrupled during the pandemic as a result of people seeking help they've been unable to find elsewhere.

The Canadian Mental Health Association received funds from several provincial government departments but has to reapply for that money every year, according to Magee.

Cadham ended the group's nearly two-hour presentation to the committee with a simple and personal message: "I just want to end on a note ... one life lost by a mental health [illness] or addiction or concurrent disorder is one life too many."

"Each individual has something unique to offer in their lifetime — let's hope that it's a long lifetime," she said.

MORE TOP STORIES