B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin is supporting a mental health working group for the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) to further the conversation on how to deal with a provincial crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Delegates at the annual UBCM conference in Whistler heard that, all too often, an initial response to a mental health crisis is arrival of police as first responders.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said having guns arrive for a panic attack is not the best solution.
“The police don’t want to be there,” Stewart said. “There really are gaps in the mental health system.”
Kim McKenzie, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) B.C Division policy director, said one in five Canadians will experience mental health concerns at some point in their lives.
She noted 21 per cent of people will meet the criteria for addiction, and those people are three times more likely than others to have mental illness.
She suggested several best practices:
- make sure approaches are people-centred dealing with those with lived experience;
- ensure approaches are human rights- and evidence-based, and;
- consider social determinants of health in decision-making.
First and foremost, she stressed, involve people who need the help.
“Folks know what they need,” she said. “Reach out to local groups and they’ll connect you.”
McKenzie said the CMHA has begun an initiative called peer-assisted care teams.
For crisis events with low risk of harm or violence, she said the teams can respond alongside or instead of police, to help de-escalate situations and connect people to ongoing community services and supports.
She said one such team already operates on Vancouver’s North Shore with more coming in Victoria and New Westminster.
She said since the program’s inception, the service has handled 450 calls, only six of which necessitated police involvement.