Judge calls for update on mental health services

New Brunswick Judge Michael McKee is calling on the provincial government to provide an update on how it is improving mental health care in the province.

Judge Michael McKee is calling for a change of attitude in treating mental illness

Provincial Court Judge Michael McKee is calling on the New Brunswick government to provide an update on how it is improving mental health care in the province.

McKee issued a report in February 2009 called, "Together into the future," which included recommendations to transform the mental health system.

In the four years since then, New Brunswick has had four health ministers and a change in government but McKee says little has changed, and the politicians don't seem to be talking about it.

Former health minister Madeleine Dubé announced an action plan for mental health services in 2011 but Judge Michael McKee said it's not moving quickly enough. (CBC)

"Where do they intend to go in the near future with this? I think it's important for the general public to know because it is troubling and disconcerting to people like myself. I haven't heard very much coming from the people that I would expect," said McKee.

A Department of Health spokesperson said the provincial government has responded to McKee's report with a seven-year action plan. The second year of investment in that plan will be announced in the spring budget.

Families running out of time

McKee said during consultations with the public for his report, he was struck by the frustration of families who were left waiting for treatment.

"I've had people tell me that her daughter committed suicide while she was on the waiting list to get some therapy," McKee said.

"It was so sad. And sad because there is something that we can do. That's what I find very sad. Silence about mental health issues is no longer an option."

Vickie Carter is part of one of those families who have been left waiting.

She's been asking the provincial government for therapy for her 17-year-old son, who suffers from bipolar disorder and is on the autism spectrum, since he was 11.

Carter said in the past five years her son has received that therapy for only three months.

"I don't feel as much like a failure as I used to because I know I'm not the only parent that goes through this and I think it's becoming more and more known that there's a lot more families like mine," said Carter.

The therapy is called applied behavioural analysis and in New Brunswick it's offered to autistic children before the age of five but Carter's son was diagnosed too late. She said without it she fears her son won't have a future.

"He takes medication but without the therapy to go with it it's like giving a child a bicycle without wheels and saying go. They can't move forward unless they have both. They go hand in hand and we're still denying them," she said.

Carter said it's very difficult right now because her son is asking for more help so he can move on after highschool to a job.

"He said, I need more help. I need help now,'" Carter said.

"And when your child says that to you what do you say? You pick yourself up, you dust yourself off, you put your boxing gloves back on and step back in the ring. That's what parents like me are up against. We fight every step of way for everything we get."