We can’t afford not to invest in mental health care

August 20, 2015

To the editor,

Mental illness is present in every neighbourhood, workplace and classroom across Nova Scotia. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia, PTSD, addiction and other clinical disorders take a terrible human toll in our province. As a former paramedic, I have seen firsthand the devastating impacts mental illness has on people and families.

It’s for this reason I was shocked to learn the McNeil government has cut the psychology residency program for budgetary reasons. How in good conscience can a government decide it can’t afford to recruit and train psychologists to work in our hospitals?

Obviously this is a poor excuse and a disservice to individuals and families struggling with mental illness right now. In a $10 billion budget a cut of $220,000 is not about money, it’s about priorities. And with a series of petty budget cuts in recent months, Stephen McNeil and Leo Glavine have signaled that strengthening our mental health care system is not on their agenda.

Unfortunately this is not the only cut imposed on our mental health care system by the Liberals. Critical organizations like Eating Disorders Nova Scotia and the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, to name just two, had their funding cut by 23 per cent. The Eating Disorders clinic at the IWK hospital has been without a psychologist since February, and recently the province closed the mental health unit at the Aberdeen Hospital in Pictou County.

To quote NDP leader Maureen MacDonald, “It’s no more excusable to shut down a mental health unit for a number of months than it is to shut down a cardiac care unit. Mental health care is not optional for people suffering with a mental illness.”

These cuts to the mental health care system are placing patient care at risk and they need to end. It’s for this reason that the NDP is calling on the McNeil government to restore all funding to our mental health care system cut in the past budget, including funding for not-for-profits such as Eating Disorders Nova Scotia.

We are also calling on the McNeil government to resume implementing the recommendations of the mental health and addictions strategy and to provide an update to the public immediately. Introduced in 2011 by the former NDP government, this strategy was the first of its kind in Nova Scotia. It provides a plan to ensure communities and our health care system have the resources required to support those suffering from mental illness. The goal of the strategy was to reduce the gaps in our mental health care system, but through a lack of action and cuts, the Liberal government has allowed those gaps to widen.

Ultimately, as a province we can’t afford not to invest more resources in our mental health care system.