Riverview centre offers free mental health care

A new mental health centre in Riverview is offering free services to young people, but the province's former child and youth advocate says the centre illustrates the need for more services in New Brunswick.

The Atlantic Wellness Community Center offers free counselling without a waiting list for youth aged 12 to 21 who have mental health issues.

The non-profit centre is funded by private donors and fundraising.

It's staffed by two counsellors and several professional volunteers, including doctors and nurse practitioners, who mostly work on an as-needed basis.

Bernard Richard, the former Child and Youth Advocate for New Brunswick, contends the centre's innovative setup highlights what's lacking in the province.

"It does … underline the fact that these services don't exist and that people have to step up and provide it in this way — almost looking at volunteers to provide mental health services. You know, if I were suffering from physical illness would I be going to a volunteer to provide services? Obviously not, right?

"I really believe that we need to treat mental illness like we treat physical illness and we wouldn't allow ad hoc kind of responses for conditions like cancer or diabetes," Richard said.

"We need the same kind of comprehensive response for mental health needs."

Richard continues to call on the province to establish a centre of excellence for children and youth with complex needs.

Meanwhile, the centre is filling a void by providing fast mental health care, said Maureen Bilerman, who's daughter has bipolar disorder.

She said she struggled to find treatment for her daughter and now advocates for youth mental health.

"At least some families and youth can access care more quickly and I think that's a good thing, and maybe for some of those kids and families that will stop things from escalating," she said.

The centre held its grand opening Wednesday night, but has served 37 people since February. It's the first of its kind in New Brunswick, said Danielle Whalen, one of the counsellors.

"The way that we have our centre set up, it's very homey. It feels like you're sitting in your living room, having a chat with somebody," she said.

The Atlantic Wellness Community Center takes referrals, but youth can also self-refer, said Whalen.

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