People with mental illness often don't know where to get help, minister says

People struggling with mental illness aren't sure how to access services offered by the province, Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard says. 

Shephard recently convened a roundtable of experts, looking for their advice on how to address mental health concerns and improve the delivery of services.

"It's abundantly clear to me that even though there are some services available, the public is not understanding where they can go," she said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.

During the closed meeting, the province learned of the lack of "urgent care" for people with mental health problems. 

"When someone is in crisis we can get them to the ER department but oftentimes, there could've been measures before it hit that point," she said. 

Shephard said one of the ways to improve urgent care would be to introduce crisis clinics, which would include group therapy.

"It needs to be a place where someone can go to almost daily to be able to talk about their problems and to get service."

The roundtable discussion included medical professionals, RCMP, police agencies, professors, social workers, counsellors, community service groups and senior government management. Shephard, Education Minister Dominic Cardy, Health Minister Ted Flemming and Premier Blaine Higgs also took part.

"We gathered some subject matter experts to have a discussion to try to outline where they saw the challenges and to see where we can make those improvements."  

By the end of September, the Department of Public Safety had counted 17 suicides in the Saint John area this year, and almost 70 across the province.

The grim statistics have gained a lot of attention in Saint John, where hundreds of people gathered on the Reversing Falls Bridge this fall to remember those who have died by suicide and to raise awareness for suicide prevention.

A provincial issue

But Shephard said law reinforcement across the province is dealing with a large number of mental health calls, and communication between government and community service organizations isn't always up to par. 

"We heard that this isn't just a Saint John issue because in Saint John we've had some higher-profile incidents that have caused a lot of anxiety in the community," she said. 

"We've heard that this is a provincial issue."

In the next month, Shephard said health-care professionals will get together to discuss how mentally ill people can gain access to better services.

She is hoping to have concrete steps in place in the next 60 days.

"We want to be thoughtful in our presentation, so that whatever we do here in the short term and mid term it helps us to achieve our long-term objective of delivering mental-health care."