Nova Scotia

Digby councillor calls for better mental health services after intake line fails 6 students

A councillor for the Municipality of Digby is calling for better mental health services on Long Island after six students failed to access support through Nova Scotia’s phone intake line.

Students on Long Island attempted to access support but couldn't get through the phone intake

In this stock image, a teenager looks out a window with a cell phone in their hand. Six students at Island Consolidated School in Freeport, N.S., attempted to access mental health services but failed to get through the phone intake system. (Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

A councillor for the Municipality of Digby is calling for better mental health services on Long Island after six students failed to access support through Nova Scotia's phone intake line.

"It just goes to show how easy it is, especially if you're in a mental health crisis, to fail the mental health intake system," David Tudor told CBC's Information Morning Halifax on Wednesday.

In November of 2020, the Island Health Centre in Freeport on Long Island started offering child and youth mental health services which can be accessed through the province's phone intake line.

Previously, people on the island had to take multiple ferries to the mainland to access mental health services.

The intake line is operated by social workers and nurses who are trained to assess the callers' needs and determine what services are available to them.

In this Google Map capture, Freeport is seen at the southwestern end of Long Island in Nova Scotia's Digby County. (Google Maps)

Tudor said there's been an increased need in mental health services for youth in the area during the COVID-19 pandemic, so several teens at Islands Consolidated School in Freeport were encouraged to call the intake line.

The students were asked to leave a message with their name and phone number to receive a call back.

"Six out of six of the people that attempted, failed [to get into the system], and that was with teachers and the principal helping," Tudor said. 

Tudor said some of the students experienced long wait times, others were referred to videos to help them but some didn't get a response.

To access life changing mental health services you must go through the door of mental health intake. We must make sure that door is wide open.- David Tudor

He said this may have been because some students don't have access to their own phone, have poor cell service or don't feel comfortable answering the phone when their parents or siblings are around.

Tudor says this is why a phone intake line shouldn't be the only option to access mental health services on the island.

"To access life changing mental health services you must go through the door of mental health intake," he said in a news release this week. "We must make sure that door is wide open."

'Call back no matter what'

Janelle Comeau, the western zone manager of mental health intake with Nova Scotia Health, said she was sorry to hear that the student had trouble accessing support through the intake line.

Comeau said she wasn't aware of the situation, but typically if the health authority is unable to reach an individual after several calls, a message will be left for them.

"If they experienced any barriers, call us back, leave us a voicemail with what the situation is and give us a time and date for us to call back that works for them and we will proceed with their intake," Comeau told Information Morning on Friday

"At that point in time, we would encourage people to continue to call back no matter what." 

She said she understands that some people in rural Nova Scotia may have poor cell service or may not have a phone. In some of those situations, assessments may be completed via text or email.

She said the health authority has also worked with local organizations and telephone providers to set up calls for an individual who needs support.

Despite this, Tudor says the phone intake line isn't enough.

"This is an obvious problem to everybody on the bottom of the mental health system," he said.

"The people above them are wedded to this idea of a phone system, where you get phoned back, is how to do mental health intake and I disagree."

With files from CBC's Information Morning Halifax

now