Judge’s report calls for sweeping changes to N.B. mental health system

27 04 2014
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A New Brunswick judge is calling for 80 recommendations to patch up the cracks in the province’s mental health system.

Provincial Court Justice Michael McKee, who issued his view of the mental health system on Thursday, is urging the provincial government to invest in early intervention, income support measures and to place a greater emphasis on keeping people with mental illnesses out of the legal system.

‘The groundswell of interest in the consultations demonstrated that mental health is everyone’s business, and everybody has a part to play.’— Judge Michael McKee

Although many of the recommendations will require government funding, McKee said cost shouldn’t keep the province from making changes.

“A readily made reason why we shouldn’t implement is because it’s going to cost too much? So I approached it knowing that and I think that many of these things can be implemented; they can be done quite easily,” the judge said.

The report said the recommendations should be phased in over five years. Health Minister Michael Murphy requested the review in May 2008 to help revamp the mental health system.

One of the areas that McKee said had to be acted on immediately was getting government departments to make an effort to work together.

That is a similar recommendation to Bernard Richard, the province’s child and youth advocate, who issued two reports in 2008 that dealt specifically with young people with mental illnesses and how he argued the system failed them.
Murphy to study report’s recommendations
Murphy said he’ll be studying McKee’s suggestions, but can’t say whether the province will follow all 80 recommendations.

He said he does agree with many of the problems highlighted in the report.

“The stigmatization of the mentally ill, the criminalization of the mentally ill in our court system and the silos of government not working together, that’s something that’s gone on for essentially decades and it has to be fixed,” Murphy said.

McKee spent nine months listening to experts, groups and individuals to find out how mental health care can be improved. While the report took months to put together, Murphy promised on Thursday that it won’t take that long for the government to decide how it plans to move forward.

McKee said roughly 2,000 people communicated with his commission in the last nine months. In his report, he referenced some of the tragic stories that he heard along the way.

McKee said one parent came to him to talk about his 23-year-old son, who committed suicide at the same time his name was placed at the bottom of a waiting list for mental health services. He heard about how a 26-year-old was released from a hospital with no home, with only enough medication for 24 hours and was unable to get a government health card.

“The groundswell of interest in the consultations demonstrated that mental health is everyone’s business, and everybody has a part to play,” the report said.

Approximately 20 per cent of New Brunswickers will experience a mental illness in their lives and the remaining 80 per cent will be affected by the illness of a relative, friend or colleague, according to the McKee report.

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