Mental health services in P.E.I. 'not where we want to be,' public event hears

Mental health services in P.E.I. aren't keeping up with the current need, a public event hosted by CBC P.E.I. Wednesday heard, but they are improving.

Islanders shared experiences with system at public event

(From left to right) Verna Ryan, Dr. Heather Keizer, Sarah Stewart Clark and Bruce Davison answered questions about the province's mental health services during Wednesday night's public forum hosted by CBC P.E.I. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

Mental health services in P.E.I. aren't keeping up with the current need, a public event hosted by CBC P.E.I. Wednesday heard, but they are improving. 

"We're not where we want to be," said panellist Dr. Heather Keizer, the province's chief of mental health and addictions.

"But we certainly have a vision going forward as to what we want to see for the delivery of services."

Fellow panellists Sarah Stewart Clark, Bruce Davison and Verna Ryan all agreed that there's much more work to be done.

The event was hosted by Sally Pitt. Around 100 people attended the forum in Charlottetown, and more watched online and commented via Facebook.

Learning from mistakes

Sarah Stewart Clark, the founder of #HowManyWade said she's frustrated that she keeps hearing the same stories over and over again from Islanders having negative experiences. 

Sarah Stewart Clark says there needs to be more funding for mental health services. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

"The other thing that we need to do better is to learn. It's a very complex issue. We all make mistakes, but I would like us to be learning from our errors," she said.

"I think that we could be much more efficient in how we're operating. We need more funding from government to ensure that we have access to the specialists that we need. And as a population, we need to be comfortable speaking about and advocating for, and asking for the mental health care that we deserve as Islanders."

Keizer said the province is moving in the right direction, but it's not there yet. She noted that particularly when it comes to the number of psychiatrists the province is currently unable to meet the demand.  

'Treated with dignity'

Two Islanders stepped forward to address the panel to share stories of patients seeking help, but feeling that they weren't well treated by the system.

Jennifer Young, a woman representing veterans with mental health issues, shared her own story of seeking help in a crisis, saying she felt as though she was treated with a lack of humility.

"You have people that are scared. You have people that don't know where to go. They want help but they can't go get help. When they get help, they're presented with blank faces. So it really makes us question where the funding is going," she said.

'You have people that don't know where to go,' said Jennifer Young, a woman representing veterans with mental health issues. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

Ryan, the chief administrator of mental health and addictions, apologized to Young for the experience she had, adding that working with veterans is a specialized area that not all staff may be versed in.

Keizer said that it's important to learn from the feedback Health PEI receives from patients to ensure that everyone receives the service they need. 

"Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity," she said.

More concerns for homeless individuals, LGBT community

Tammy MacKinnon asked about the supports available for homeless people, particularly because many are already dealing with trauma every day.

Ryan and Keizer pointed to the Housing First project, which provides housing for those dealing with mental health and addiction issues.

Tammy MacKinnon asked about supports for homeless people dealing with metal health issues. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

Rose Dale asked about what's being done for the LGBT community on the Island.

"A lot of them don't feel represented on the Island, and don't feel like they can talk about their issues," she said, pointing out that transgender individuals face additional barriers when seeking treatment.

Rose Dale said many LGBT individuals don't feel they can talk about their issues within the Island's mental health system. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

Keizer said that the province has been making strides, but that more work needs to be done. She said that she has been encouraging her colleagues to train in transgender medicine in Halifax and is hoping for more educational opportunities in the future.

'We're trying': health minister

Health Minister Robert Mitchell, who was at the forum, agreed with the panellists that mental health services on P.E.I. are not where they should be. 

Health Minister Robert Mitchell acknowledges that there's still a lot more work to be done with regards to mental health services on P.E.I. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

"We're trying. And we're making some good progress.... There's no political points here. This is about real health care stories," he said, thanking those who came forward to share their stories Wednesday night.  

As for whether or not more money will be put into mental health services, the minister said, "We don't have an overnight solution, but we do know that we got to continue to invest.... We've all got to listen and decide where is the needs and work toward those."

More from CBC P.E.I.