April 14th, 2021 marked the 5th anniversary since the Public Health Officer declared a public health emergency relating to the toxic drug crisis. Questions throughout question period were focused on this topic, and what government must do in the face of this ongoing emergency.
My question was about what government can do to put mental health supports in place that people can access when they need them. Insufficient mental health care – including affordable long-term support and trauma-informed counselling – is one of the root causes of this crisis. We need proactive measures to start providing accessible, non-stigmatized, and consistent mental health care to critically protect and support all British Columbians, including those who use drugs.
My questions to the Premier and to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions: In the upcoming budget, will we see mental health care be included in the Medical Services Plan system? Recognizing that mental health and addictions are inextricably linked, what further steps can the Ministry take to ensure that every British Columbian can have immediate, no-barrier access to mental health care when they need it?
S. Furstenau: Following on the questions from the member of the official opposition, mental health is a significant issue, a significant root cause for many of the challenges that we see with the deaths from this illicit toxic drug supply. What doesn’t exist for a lot of people is access to mental health services when they need it, where they need it, in a way that there aren’t barriers of affordability, accessibility.
The Premier, earlier in his comments, said that today is a day for ideas from all parties in the House. We have put an idea forward about how to ensure that there is accessible mental health care for everybody in British Columbia. That is to bring psychologists under the Medical Services Plan so that they are part of the primary care network and so that nobody in B.C. has to wonder how they’re going to get access to mental health care in this province.
My question to the Premier: is that an idea that will be considered; is it going to be in the budget; will we see mental health care be a part of our Medical Services Plan system?
Hon. S. Malcolmson: Our government agrees with the opposition that access to mental health care and addiction support should not depend on the size of your budget. I’m very encouraged that, in cooperation with the health authorities, we’ve been able to announce, just in the last month, 100 new publicly funded adult addiction treatment beds. That’s just one example of the plan that we are building out.
The Third Party’s suggestion from the B.C. psychologists association is a generous one. The Premier has asked me, in my mandate letter, to investigate removing barriers to access to mental health counselling.
Psychologists are an important part of B.C.’s mental health care system. They are not the only practitioner, but we are very grateful for their work. Most particularly right now, they are employed at a great many of our new urgent primary care centres, which are delivering seven-day-a-week access to people in mental health and addictions treatment and crisis.
We need to bring the great diversity of approaches — for example, the $15 million that we have just put into 49 community counselling organizations. All of these efforts work. We need all hands on deck to face this crisis.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: I appreciate the minister’s response in recognition of this proposal and, importantly, the recognition of how important mental health care is to everybody’s health.
I think that the challenge that a lot of people in British Columbia have right now is that if they are experiencing mental health challenges, one of the biggest barriers they have is: “Can I afford to pick up the phone and make an appointment with a counsellor in this moment that I need it?”
When that isn’t available to people, what we find is that people are in crisis when they finally seek care for their mental health struggles. They end up in hospitals, end up in psychiatric units. They end up costing the system quite a bit more than had they had the proactive ability to be able to get the counselling when they need it and where they need it.
My question, again, to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, recognizing that, even in her title, mental health and addictions are recognized as being connected: what further steps can we see to ensure that every British Columbian can have immediate, no-barrier access to mental health care when they need it?
Hon. S. Malcolmson: Meeting, I think two weeks ago, with the parents in Moms Stop the Harm, some of the parents urged us very much to think of addiction as a mental illness. They don’t make any separation between the two. So I appreciate the member opposite drawing, again, that link so strongly.
That we, especially during the time of COVID, have been able to move, in the greatest transformation, I think, in B.C.’s history, because of this crisis of COVID, mental health counselling to an online and on-phone platform is a great testament to the community organizations and the B.C. psychologists association that helped us with some of that early counselling access.
Anybody that is watching who is in crisis or needs help or is feeling anxious — as the member says, we do want to deal with problems while they are still small ones — please reach out for help. I have confirmed and reconfirmed that there is help available. You can go to gov.bc.ca/covid19mentalhealthsupports. There is a great variety of services available at low cost and no cost. We are continuing to invest to build out the supports that people need. There’s more for us to do.