Nfld. & Labrador

'I lucked into a psychiatrist': Mental health advocates call for better long-term care

Every Saturday for the last six months, Kristi Allan has held a sign outside the Waterford hospital, calling for greater resources for long-term mental health care.

New report highlights people's experiences with mental health system

Kristi Allan is hopeful that the new mental health facility will take away the stigma of 'going to the Waterford'. (Submitted by Kristi Allan)

Kristi Allan's voice shakes slightly when she thinks back to a dark time in her life.

A time when she wanted to end her life.

"I was almost a stat this year. I almost was a stat in 2021 and I think that the government thinks, 'Oh, suicide is just a part of society,'" she said. "Why aren't they addressing that? Why aren't those lives worth saving?"

Allan, who is diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder, openly speaks about her mental illness and advocates for better mental health care in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

"Sixty people died by suicide in 2020. That is 60 people too many," she told CBC News in a recent interview.

In fact, 65 people in the province died by suicide in 2020, according to the chief medical examiner.

Better long-term services are a matter close to Allan's heart.

The Waterford Hospital, the province's chief mental health facility, located in St. John's, is "beyond terrible," said Allan.

That's where she has been standing every Saturday for the past six months, holding a sign that reads "Long-term Mental Health Care Needs to be More Accessible."

'I decided that I wanted to talk about it'

Allan felt the need to protest after two people she knew had died by suicide.

"I decided that I wanted to talk about it and I thought about going and doing a couple of protests, but then decided that wasn't what I thought was good enough," she said, so she decided to protest every week, for the length of a typical therapy session: 30 to 60 minutes.

WATCH | Kristi Allan tells the CBC's Henrike Wilhelm why she is passionate about campaigning for more accessible mental health care: 

Here's why this woman is protesting access to mental health care

1 year ago
Duration 2:33
Henrike Wilhelm interiews Kristi Allan, who doesn't want others to experience what she has endured

A new independent report by the provincial branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association-Newfoundland suggests that better long-term care is a concern for many people who live with a mental illness.

In "Embracing Experiences," published at the beginning of May, 40 people describe their experiences with provincial mental health care.

Bailey Reid of the CMHA-NL says one finding was particularly surprising.

"A lot of folks who talked about having positive or good experiences with the system actually attributed it to being lucky," she said.

"They said, 'I had really great experiences and I was very, very fortunate or very lucky to have had that,' as opposed to having full confidence that the system would truly support them and their needs at the time."

'Change can be transformative' 

Allan can relate to that feeling.

"I lucked into a psychiatrist and I felt that way because I had been waiting for one," she said. "And I talked to a doctor and I basically pleaded my case and I finally got one. And I feel a little bit guilty because I know that a lot of people don't have the same thing."

Allan speaks openly about her diagnosis of bipolar 2 disorder and hopes to bring change to the provincial mental health care system. (Submitted by Kristi Allan)

In an open letter to the province's MHAs, Allan calls for better long-term care.

"That is especially a problem in Labrador because … they have a hard time getting family doctors, let alone mental health care," she said.

Reid says the public response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows that faster change is possible.

"If COVID has taught us anything, it's that change can be transformative and pretty, pretty fast and immediate when things are very dire and when lives are in great need," she said.

"The same can be said with the mental health and addictions system as well."

Last week represented the six-month mark of Allan's protest. This time, she stood in front of the Confederation Building, sign in hand.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henrike Wilhelm

Journalist

Henrike Wilhelm is a journalist working with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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