Mental health, addictions wait lists eliminated in Grand Bank area, says government

The primary health-care services were introduced after residents demanded changes amid rash of suicides.

Primary health-care services came amid outcry from residents after rash of suicides

Natalie Randell holds up a picture of her family as she describes how her husband and brother-in-law both died by suicide. 'This is a family of six that got destroyed by this disease,' at a press conference announcing the elimination of wait times for mental health and addictions services in the Grand Bank area. (Damien Morrissey/CBC)

Natalie Randell didn't need any statistics to tell her Grand Bank had a suicide problem.

Randell, a hospital worker, and her sister, Valerie Peach, lost their husbands to suicide within weeks of each other, two of six people in the area who took their own lives over a 14-month period.

On Sept. 20, 2016, Peach's husband, Leonard, took his own life. Two months later, their son Zachery, in his grief — and later stating he wanted to be with his father — overdosed on acetaminophin. He survived, but a month later Randell's husband Lindsay — after a lifetime battling clinical depression and bipolar disorder — took his own life as well.

​The sisters' pleaded for better mental health care, as did Grand Bank Mayor Rex Matthews — and on Monday, the provincial government said efforts to improve primary health care in the area has resulted in eliminating wait times for mental health and addictions counselling services, which used to be as long as eight months.

Health Minister John Haggie says two out of three people with mental health problems don't seek help. (Damien Morrissey/CBC)

"To lose two such amazing men in such a short period of time resulted in such deep sorrow, one which I thought I would never survive," said Randell, after holding up pictures of her and her sister's families.

"But it also gave me an intense need to make others understand, and with my life experience, help to advocate for change, and change it did."

The province eliminated wait times by moving to a same-day walk-in service. Among the other steps the province has taken are:

  • Partnering with area schools to offer mental health and wellness courses, services and walk-in sessions.
     
  • Delivering presentations and courses, such as Anxiety 101 and Improving Health My Way, to community groups and workplaces targeting youth, adults and seniors.
     
  • Organizing mindfulness nature walks in partnership with the communities of Grand Bank, Fortune and Marystown.
     
  • Providing ongoing mental health and addictions education to paramedicine first responders.
     
  • Delivering self-care presentations to students at Smallwood Crescent Community Centre, Keyin College and the Student Leadership Conference at Lake Academy.

"I've said it before, but the stats speak for themselves. The Canadian Medical Association, for example, will tell you that two in three people with mental health problems suffer in silence, fearing judgment, fearing rejection, and the stigma," said Health Minister John Haggie at a press conference touting the work that has been done.

"Those numbers are real, and they tell me, and they tell a lot of people in this field that we need to do something and we need to change."

Natalie Randell hugs her sister Valerie Peach by Leonard Peach's grave. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Evelyn Tilley, Eastern Health's regional manager of mental health and addictions, said the spate of suicides prompted the creation of a primary health-care team, consisting of community members from schools, churches, community leaders, and people who have lived through the experience of mental health and addictions.

"We've proven that once you listen to people, change is very much possible, and we've demonstrated that by moving from a traditional appointment-based service to a walk-in service, where individuals can access the service when they need it," she said

'So many positives'

Tilley added that the change has resulted in "so many positives" that she can't list them all, but in addition to cutting wait times, the change has eliminated the problem of no-shows and cancellations, and increased capacity to focus on addictions and addictions prevention.

There's a full-time mental-health nurse in Grand Bank, and one-day-per-week service in the St. Lawrence and Placentia West clinics.

The team also includes frontline health-care providers such as nurses, social workers, physicians, paramedics, psychiatrists and managers from a variety of program areas like primary health care, mental health and addictions, and emergency services.

A flurry of suicides in two years prompted outcry from Grand Bank and the Burin Peninsula region, with residents demanding better availability of mental health and addictions services. (Wikimedia Commons)

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With files from Here & Now