Mayor’s Meeting on Mental Health and Addictions

On October 2nd, Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson held a roundtable on mental health and addictions. This was done on short notice. The mayor announced a “public health crisis” saying that far too many people were walking around the city with “untreated” mental health and addiction issues and doing harm to themselves or others.

He came up with a problematic five-fold solution: 1) increase Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams; 2) increase supports at BC Housing; 3) enhance urgent care at the hospital; 4) pair the VPD with mental health workers; and 5) create 300 long-term and “secure” mental health beds.

Susan Beck, a former DTES front-line worker, acknowledged that “people do need to be cared for.” However, she’s worried that “people are going to be forced into treatment that is maybe not in their best interest.” Sometimes people need to be cared for when they are in a crisis, but when they are feeling better, they should be allowed to go back to their lives.And it seems that people would not be given a choice in their treatment.

There was no mention of alternatives to what the doctors and professionals were saying. Practices such as accupuncture, integrative energy healing and yoga have been successful aids in fighting addictions. Medications were hailed as necessary, even though they have nasty and sometimes permanent side-effects such as diabetes, tremors and an increased chance of strokes, among others.

Another alternative that was not mentioned was peer-run counseling, or psychological counseling by someone other than a psychiatrist. Both have been found to be effective by consumers and even necessary because people usually get only limited time with psychiatrists.I know of someone who was hospitalized for 3 short visits, and during that time never saw his psychiatrist. He barely even talked to his nurse.Peers can fill in the gaps and understand from the ground up what clients are going through.

But peers are not getting support to do this work. Karen Ward of Gallery Gachet cites recent problems with funding for peer-run centres such as West Coast Mental Health, which has recently had its funding cut.

Consumers talked about safe and stable housing as crucial to their health and well-being. Understandably, people feel depressed just being in a small room without access to proper nutrition, and no wonder.Cultural activities and spirituality, such as native practices, are also important, but the Roundtable made no mention of them.

The speakers at the Mayor’s Roundtable were all doctors and professionals, except for two clients of the “At Home” project where people were given “housing first.” Laszlo Szemok, a participant, talked about how once “people have improved, they should be included in being part of the answer.”The morning was heavy on “experts” and short on talks by the real experts – those on the ground.


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