Trust in providers is essential to care of mental illness

I listened to the comments of a grieving family and mental health advocate Laurel Walker on Thursday’s CBC Information Morning program. Their despair, coupled with a desire to spare others from that hurt, is genuine.

I am, however, extremely concerned that some of what I heard in that segment will in fact put more people at risk. The suggestion that every day people seeking help are being sent away from hospitals and told to make their own decisions is not only false  it is dangerous.

As Ms. Walker noted, we wrote to her when the #howmany group first began to circulate a petition. The purpose of the letter was not to have them stop the petition, but to stop the defamatory comments attacking the reputation of individual employees  comments she repeated on your program. As an employer, Nova Scotia Health Authority is concerned for the health, wellness and psychological safety of its employees and can’t condone such an approach. Nor is it in keeping with the spirit of a group purporting to promote mental health and wellness.

All of us at NSHA those in direct care roles as well as those in administrative roles like all Nova Scotians, want to ensure the best services are in place and accessible to people with mental illnesses and that the harmful effects of those illnesses are minimized. We would say the same about people living with cancer or heart disease or any health condition.

And we are part of those affected communities too. We are parents and siblings; we are caregivers; we are people with personal experience of illness. If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, you can be confident the people you will see whether they are nurses, counsellors, psychiatrists or other providers will care about you and be committed to helping you get better.

Emergency physicians are highly skilled at assessing mental health disorders and trained to recognize and treat these illnesses. Whether you are assessed by an emergency physician or a mental health clinician, all are dedicated to improving and saving lives. But they also need to be trusted. If patients believe up front they will be treated poorly or unfairly, or worse, dismissed and not heard, the ability to develop a therapeutic relationship significantly diminishes. We acknowledge the system in which we provide care is not perfect, but it is not broken, and is being offered by health professionals who are committed to working every day in the best interests of their patients.

The decision of whether or not to hospitalize someone is made by gaining an understanding of the whole person – not by a single moment, although extremely stressful, at the emergency department. There is evidence to demonstrate that for certain mental health conditions there is no benefit, and even potential harm, with a hospital admission.

There are no health services for which we can today or will ever be able to say: we’ve got it exactly right, we have all the right resources in all the right places and can meet the needs of every person and avoid the worst outcomes. Knowledge and technology evolve and populations change. We are focused on learning and improving every day, both by looking at the successes and failures of other agencies and by listening to the experiences of people who use our services.

If you need help now, please take advantage of these resources:

Mental Health Crisis Line

1-888-429-8167 (toll-free)

Available 24 hours, seven days a week

Kids Help Phone

1-800-668-6868 (toll-free)

Available 24 hours, seven days a week

Or call 911 or go to your closest emergency department