(Vancouver) An Assistant Professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University is calling on the provincial government to re-think its approach to mental health care. “In recent years, we’ve seen cuts to a host of social services and changes to mental health care,” says Marina Morrow. “We need a strategy that recognizes the links between poverty and mental illness, and provides a range of community-based income, housing and employment supports.”
“This isn’t just a health issue — it’s an economic security issue. We know that poverty makes mental illness worse, and that it can lead to poor mental health. Rather than waiting to help people until they are in crisis and their lives are falling apart, we need a system that helps them maintain a healthy, independent life.”
Morrow is the author of a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called Community-Based Mental Health Services in BC: Changes to Income, Employment and Housing Supports. Among the key findings:
- Since 2001, the provincial government has made some changes that positively benefit people with mental illness, however, cuts and negative policy changes outweigh these benefits.
- The government has established the Premiers’ Task Force on Homelessness, Mental Health and Addictions; however, too many recent policy decisions contradict the intention to link these issues.
- Direct mental health care has been cut. Staffing in the Adult Mental Health Division of the Ministry of Health was reduced by 70%, the position of Mental Health Advocate was eliminated, and cuts have been made to clinical and acute care services.
- Funding to organizations that provide advocacy to people with mental illness has been cut, and mechanisms to involve people in their own care and in policy decision making have been diminished.
- Changes to the welfare application process have made it unreasonably difficult for people with mental illness to get both basic income assistance and disability benefits.
- In the Vancouver Coastal Health region, the number of supported mental health housing units has increased, though the formal waitlist is still 750, and the informal estimate is much higher.
Morrow’s study provides a blueprint for comprehensive community-based mental health services in BC. Among her recommendations is a call to increase disability benefit rates, provide more advocates to help people navigate the welfare system, reinstitute a provincial Mental Health Advocate and expand innovative supported housing programs.
Community-Based Mental Health Services in BC was produced through the Economic Security Project, a joint research initiative of the CCPA and Simon Fraser University, funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
To arrange an interview, call Shannon Daub at 604-801-5121 x226.