Lessons to be learned — COVID-19 and Mental Health & Addiction Services on PEI
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended most of our lives. It’s created chaos, heartbreak, and tragedy. Something of this magnitude has not been felt before by any in our generation. We are fortunate to live where we do, on Prince Edward Island. Although not immune, we have avoided in many ways what most of the other provinces have not been able to. For that, we should be thankful.
While Islanders have done an excellent job in mitigating the spread of COVID 19, we must remember that other aspects of our system have faltered. This pandemic has demonstrated how woefully unprepared we are as a province in dealing with the current mental health crisis. This is not intended to be a criticism of our mental health workers either; they are stretched thin and often bear the brunt of the complaints. Blame should be placed squarely at the feet of the government. And not just our current government, this crisis is not something that appeared overnight; it built up gradually due to the failures at the highest levels.
We cannot begin to heal the wounds of old unless we acknowledge and accept that we have failed as a society in protecting and helping those who have been crying out for our help. The first step in solving a problem is admitting there is one.
Every day we open the paper or read a story online about someone struggling with mental health or addiction, and they feel like they aren’t being heard. Every election cycle, promises are made, platitudes are spoken, and yet here we are. It’s disheartening to listen to these stories, but I am simply an observer in them. What is even more concerning is that these challenges are life-threatening for many.
Our government is responsible for protecting citizens and providing them with the tools and resources they need to succeed. It does not matter which party is in power. Once elected, it is YOUR responsibility to act. Not deflect and place the blame with your predecessors. As an MLA, your constituents elected you to do a job, and have faith that you will execute to the best of your ability.
We continue to ignore advice from those on the front lines of this fight. The very people employed to help those in need tell us what they require to do their jobs effectively, yet we continue to ignore their direction. Those struggling with mental health and addiction problems continue to offer guidance on how we can improve our services, yet our only reply is that “we hear them” and “we are listening.”
Mental health and addiction services is not merely a problem to be solved and forgotten about. Instead, it must be worked on constantly, adapting to the ever-changing nature of the issues that exist. If we continue to pat ourselves on the back for things done in the past, we fail to keep our eye on the future.
Solutions such as supervised consumption sites are no longer simply ideas to be discussed; they are a requirement. Concepts like the mobile mental health crisis unit, which continues to be bogged down by bureaucratic malarkey, must be implemented, and advice given by experts adhered to. The longer we wait to take action on these issues, the more irreparable the harm caused will be.
We have been told time and time again throughout this pandemic that we must work together to help combat the coronavirus. Why can’t we apply that same mentality and call to action in the fight against mental health and addiction? The fight can no longer be put on the back burner. It requires action.
We have world-class organizations, mental health workers, and a resilient population. But none of this matters if we do not listen to them and heed their advice. This Conservative government made lofty promises during their election campaign and have failed to bring most of those to fruition to date. It’s time for the Conservatives to prioritize mental health and addiction services and put their money where their mouth is, once and for all.
Our Premier, Dennis King, said on May 19th of 2019 to his newly sworn-in cabinet. “I encourage you to lead with confidence and lead with humility. Always with the best interests of PEI at heart, and embrace this wonderful challenge that lies before us. Be bold, be courageous, be different, be kind, co-operate with your legislative colleagues, be open to good ideas, share the credit, put the interests of Islanders at the heart of every decision. If we do that, we will be living up to the oaths we have sworn on this stage here this morning.” (https://bit.ly/3tFRVnn)
I believe it is certainly time for our Premier to live up to these words he so eloquently spoke on that May day almost two years ago. Mr. Premier, be bold, be courageous, and put the interests of EVERY Islander at the heart of your decisions. Lives depend on it.