'Why are people looking for VLTs served faster than people with suicidal thoughts?' MLA asks

An Island MLA is questioning why it takes longer to get through to the Island Helpline than it does the VLT hotline.

Hal Perry says 17 minutes on hold listening to elevator music too long

Hal Perry, MLA for Tignish-Palmer Road.
Liberal Hal Perry, MLA for Tignish-Palmer Road, says constituents have been reaching out to him looking for mental-health supports. (Government of P.E.I.)

An Island MLA is questioning why it takes longer to get through to the province's mental health helpline than it does the P.E.I. gambling support hotline.

Hal Perry, Liberal MLA for Tignish-Palmer Road, said he called the Island Helpline during business hours and was on hold 17 minutes listening to elevator music before a "nice person" finally answered. Perry said the person told him the waits could be even longer — sometimes up to an hour.

To compare, he said he called the gambling support line operated by Atlantic Lotto, and a live person answered within three minutes and was able to direct him to the nearest video lottery terminal.

In the legislature Tuesday, Perry asked Health Minister Ernie Hudson if he thought that was acceptable.

"Do you believe this is adequate response time for someone experiencing suicidal thoughts at this present time, not waiting for a plan down the road, listening to elevator music?" Perry asked.

'Absolutely not' acceptable

Hudson replied it was "absolutely not" acceptable and that the recent budget aimed to better address mental health issues on P.E.I., notably through a single point of access number and mobile mental-health response units.

Perry said he was raising the issue because an increasing number of his constituents have been looking for help for themselves or family members experiencing suicidal thoughts or in need of mental health support.

"This past Sunday, shortly after midnight, I had a constituent reach out for help. At that time of the day, the ER at the Prince County Hospital is an option, or I could direct them to the Island Helpline," he said in the legislature.

Mobile response units coming ASAP, Hudson says

Hudson said the single point-of-access number should be ready "very shortly."

He said the mobile response units will take longer, but government is actively working with partners to have them available as soon as possible.

Perry then turned his attention to Finance Minister Darlene Compton.

"Why are people looking for VLTs served faster than people with suicidal thoughts?" he asked.

Compton said a portion of revenue from Atlantic Lotto goes toward mental-health and addictions services. She said the revenue also goes toward other services, and that that government would "continue to scrutinize" how that money is spent.

If you or a friend or family member are struggling with mental health, the Island Helpline is available 24 hours a day seven days a week at 1-800-218-2885. If you or a friend are struggling with gambling habits, the P.E.I. Gambling Support line is 1-855-255-4255, also around the clock.

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