100 protests later, N.L. advocate says more needs to be done for long-term mental health care

The milestone is bittersweet for Kristi Allan, who says some progress has been made but not nearly enough.

'People are not getting what they need,' says Kristi Allan

A woman with long brown hair wearing purple glasses smiles in front of a microphone. Two women stand behind her with posters, one reading 'Long term mental healthcare needs to be more accessible.
Kristi Allan has been protesting since the fall of 2020 to demand more accessible long-term mental health care in the province. She marked her 100th demonstration on Monday. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Marking her 100th protest demanding the Newfoundland and Labrador government provide more accessible long-term mental health-care, Kristi Allan of Petty Harbour says it's a bittersweet milestone.

Since the fall of 2020, when she stood outside the Waterford Hospital in St. John's holding a poster that read "Long-Term Mental Health Care Needs to Be More Accessible," Allan has been highlighting gaps in the provincial mental health-care system through a weekly protest. 

"People always say, 'Well, what would make you stop?' Well, it completely depends, you know? And right now I know it's not close to what it should be," said Allan on Monday, standing outside Confederation Building.

"People are not getting what they need. I really believe that most aren't."

What started as a small initiative has grown dramatically over the 100 weeks with others joining her cause, often by demonstrating with her. Along the way she shifted the site of the protest from the Waterford to the provincial legislature.

Since she started, Allan and others have raised close to $15,000 for the Jacob Puddister Memorial Foundation, which offers free youth counselling.

"I'm just so grateful because I didn't do any of that. That was people, that was the public," she said.

Her demonstrations began after she heard about a person who died by suicide, Allan said, The story stuck with her and inspired her to do something to help people in need.

Despite the rain — and her wedding the same day — Allan spent an hour demonstrating outside the Waterford Hospital in November 2021. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

"I was sick of people not being able to get what they needed. And I decided that a short-term statement didn't make sense for a long-term problem," said Allan, who herself has been diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder.

"I decided that I was going to go every week. It wasn't going to be about numbers. It was going to be about continuity, which is what we need. I need continuity of care, and there's so many others that do."

That continuity has been shown throughout demonstrators, as at least one person has led the demonstration for 100 straight weeks. Allan highlighted her commitment in November 2021 when she held her demonstration at the Waterford Hospital on her own wedding day.

People have joined Allan along the way, calling on the provincial government to address the need for long-term mental health-care rather than just focusing on the short-term.

"If we don't provide long-term mental health-care and make it accessible to people, all we're going to be doing is having crises. And we would like to see crises prevented in advance," said Ari Rochester, who has demonstrated with Allan. "For people who live with chronic mental illnesses, long-term mental health care is essential."

'Just please care'

Allan says the 100th demonstration is a bittersweet milestone; some progress has been made, she said, while other concerns haven't been addressed.

"I understand that it's always a moving target … but it's frustrating that the things I think we needed two years ago haven't been done," she said.

"Have they made some steps? Absolutely, but it's been mostly for short-term and we need to focus on long-term as well."

Two women stand on either side of a large banner. It's white with a red stripe across the bottom, and has black font that reads 'Long term mental healthcare needs to be more accessible.
Monday's protest happened outside Confederation Building in St. John's. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Allan and her supporters brought their concerns to question period in the House of Assembly on Monday, where Health Minister Tom Osborne said the provincial government is working to recruit more professionals, including psychologists, to help with long-term care.

"This government under the premier and the former minister of health have put in a number of initiatives to reduce wait times, improve mental health care in this province, Mr. Speaker, and those results are clear," Osborne said during question period. 

"Have we got all of the work done? No, certainly not. There is much more to be done."

Allan says she'll keep demonstrating for as long as it's needed, calling on politicians and the public to make sure the conversation continues.

"It might be easy to ignore us when we're out here first thing on Monday morning.… Please listen," she said.

"Please think about chronic mental illness as you would a physical illness that needs checkups and constant care. Just please care. Like, don't ignore it."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Danny Arsenault