New mental health minister: 'The devil is in the details' says expert

The recommendation in last week's report to create a B.C. ministry of mental health may not be warranted because the coordination of services happens on the ground, not with politicians, says one mental health expert.

The previous ministry of mental health failed to live up to expectations, mental health expert says

A B.C. Interior health official says creating a ministry of mental health may not help with the real problem, which is integration of services. (Martin Barraud/Getty Images)

The recommendation  in last week's report to create a B.C. ministry of mental health may not be warranted because the coordination of services happens on the ground, not with politicians, says one mental health expert.

The recommendation is part of a report released in January by a bipartisan legislative committee that examined child and youth mental health services across B.C. for two years. But an Interior health official says creating a new political position may not benefit the coordination efforts that happen "in the trenches."

"I think that the reality is that integration actually occurs on the ground. It occurs in the day-to-day dialogue that we have with people who are face-to-face, in the trenches, working with people in mental health and substance abuse issues," said David Harrhy, executive director for mental health and substance use for the Interior Health Authority.

Ultimately, service providers are the ones who help people with mental health issues, not politicians, he said. 

"Managers and administrators, [break] down the barriers and silos that actually are going to improve the system of care."

'The devil is in the details'

Mental health advocates have pointed out that any new minister of mental health should have a similar level of responsibility as the Minister of Health, if the new minister is going to have any real power.

Harrhy agrees but is skeptical about how this particular recommendation will play out, pointing out a previous iteration of the position in 2002 did not live up to expectations.

"It's an interesting idea and I think it remains to be seen exactly where they go with this. The devil is in the details in a lot of ways."

But Harrhy says a minister acts as a single contact person for the public — an idea that could come in handy when dealing with a complex issue like mental health.

"I think one of the benefits of that kind of role would be to have a single source of accountability, a single driver in terms of quality, levels of integration, assurances around funding and so forth."

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Interior Health official on the possibility of a Minister of Mental Health.


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