'It's a crisis here': Island man says he had to exaggerate mental-health symptoms just to get help
'It just goes to show how short we're falling in meeting the needs of people with mental illness'
Josh Lewis knows first-hand how difficult it can be to get help for mental-health issues. After returning home to P.E.I. from living in Saskatchewan in February 2015, he said it took him more than two years to see a psychiatrist to ensure his medications were correct and eight months to see a therapist.
He said while living in Estevan, Sask., with a population of about 12,000, he was able to to see a therapist within two weeks and get medication a lot faster than in P.E.I.
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Lewis, 30, said the only way he even got help to deal with his depression was by going to emergency and exaggerating his symptoms around last Christmas. He said he knew he was a low-priority case, but felt he desperately needed help.
"I exaggerated my symptoms because I thought that would be the only way they would maybe listen to me and actually get me some help," he said.
I exaggerated my symptoms because I thought that would be the only way they would maybe listen to me and actually get me some help.- Josh Lewis
"It's unacceptable that people have to do something like that. I think it just goes to show how short we're falling in meeting the needs of people with mental illness in P.E.I."
Lewis was reacting to comments by P.E.I.'s chief of mental health and addictions, Dr. Heather Keizer, who expressed concern about federal money earmarked for mental health being diverted to schools.
'People are in danger'
Lewis said the diverted money could be used to better help people with mental-health issues.
"I really believe it's a crisis here and the government doesn't seem to realize that or is trying to ignore that there is a burgeoning disaster, I think, in mental health," he said. "A lot of kids and a lot of people are in danger right now."
Lewis said he's speaking out because he knows a lot of others are still concerned about the stigma.
"I've learned with my experiences that talking to somebody is one of the most important things you can do because you can't fight depression or mental illness on your own. You need some sort of help."
He agrees with some of the asks from the #HowManyWade campaign, where 100 stories about mental health are going to be shared over 100 days. A mobile team to help people in mental-health crises and a child advocate would both help, he said.
The province has said it is exploring those possibilities.
Verna Ryan, chief administrative officer for Mental Health and Addictions Services at Health PEI, acknowledges there are more people showing up at ERs with mental-health problems.
Work left to be done
She said Health PEI has been trying hard to "maximize" its mental-health services, but admits there's a lot of work left to be done.
"We could definitely use more resources and we want to use them wisely," she said. "I want to do this in a planned process. We have a 10-year strategy that clearly outlines the gaps in the system ... we are asking for some patience as we're working on this, but there is hope."
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