By Marvin Ross

October 10 was World Mental Health Day and even Ontario Premier Doug Ford took the time to make an announcement of support. He told Ontarians that we must fight stigma, help people get support and about all the innovative programs that Ontario has introduced to support people in their quest for help.

He didn’t explain what those innovative programs might be but maybe he was preoccupied with the announcement that day that the RCMP has begun a criminal investigation of him and his government over the sale of some of the Greenbelt protected lands to developers. He might have been referring to his government’s efforts to introduce privatization into our public health care system as he admits at 32 minutes into this press conference .

In an article by Health Care Providers Against Poverty, the impact of privatization on mental health care is outlined. The authors point out that this has resulted in longer wait times and less access for those who need it. While Ontario is adding more money to mental health care, it is still not as much as the “Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) and the Mental Health Commission of Canada recommend and is less than what other G-7 countries spend.”

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the case of Andrew Bryenton, a 39 year old former bank official from PEI who developed a psychotic illness and has been living on the streets of Toronto. Three times his mother obtained form 2 documents from the court for the police to pick him up and take him to hospital for a psychiatric assessment and to have him returned at no cost to Ontario back to PEI. His Charlottetown psychiatrist was willing to treat him and felt that he could be restored to 90% of his previous self.

Three times Toronto hospitals ruled that he was fine and discharged him back to the streets with no money or place to stay. He is so fine that people have reported seeing him talking to himself, gesticulating and, just the other day, talking animatedly to a telephone pole. Concerned citizens began e-mailing Premier Ford to do something to help this poor man and his distraught family and Doug replied to the mom that he was sorry for her troubles, wished her well and said he was referring the matter to his Minister of Health, Sylvia Jones.

Ms Jones has done nothing but the Premier’s office advised that they had received so many e-mails that they would simply send an automated “out of office” type response. Just recently, a member of the opposition wrote to Ford asking for him to help. This was his reply:

Thank you for writing and sharing your views about Andrew Bryenton. I appreciate the opportunity to read your comments and get a better understanding of your perspective.

I’ve shared your email with the Honourable Sylvia Jones, Minister of Health, for her information.

Your input is important. You can be sure our government will consider it when developing policies and deciding how to address the various challenges we face today. It’s with your help and through this collaborative spirit we will build a brighter future for Ontario.

Thanks again for reaching out.

Note that he is telling his minister about this for her information only but not suggesting she take any action.

In a guest post on this blog, psychiatrist Richard O’Reilly pointed out that:

The problem is our society’s reluctance to spend money on services for people with severe mental illness. Governments repeatedly trumpet increased funding for “mental health services.” Bizarrely, few of these additional dollars go to services for people with the most severe illnesses such as psychosis. In other areas of health care, we prioritize the needs of the those with the most severe problems. I can’t think of another area of health care in which we prioritize spending on less severe problems while ignoring the basic needs of citizens who are the most severely ill.”

If Doug was truly interested in providing innovative programs as he claims he has already done, then Dr O’Reilly suggests this would solve the problems faced by Andrew and the thousands upon thousands of homeless mentally ill people wandering our streets or being cared for by overwhelmed families.

First, we can reverse the decline in the availability of inpatient care. A reasonable availability of hospital beds would enable doctors to admit people like Andrew and to provide treatment in hospital until the patient’s hallucinations and delusions are controlled. Critically, it would also allow the hospitals to care for very disabled patients until a residential placement could be found that would provide the person with an appropriate level of support. In relation to this second point, Ontario needs to develop high support group homes in the community for the small percentage of people with marked psychiatric disabilities so that they can live with dignity. Finally, we need to fund more assertive community teams (ACTs). The Ontario government promised to fund a network of ACT teams when it closed the freestanding psychiatric hospitals. But the Ontario Association for ACT teams notes that the province is 50 ACT teams short of the required target and that many of the existing teams are underfunded.”

There is time Doug to do the right things but do you have the balls to do them?

PS. I will be providing an update on Andrew in the not too distant future.


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