Time to get the job done on mental health

While governments have been good a closing institutions, they’ve struggled providing adequate support outside those institutions.

The refrain has become so familiar, it would be amusing were it not so tragic.

“Cities target gaps in care for mentally ill,” reads the headline.

The gaps are nothing new, and neither is the call for more support.

Just last week, Canadian police chiefs were talking about the need for a greater commitment by governments to deal with the issue.

Vancouver police chief Jim Chu, speaking at a meeting of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police,  said police officers are spending too much time dealing with people struggling with mental health issues.

“We went from the agency of last resort to the mental-health service agency of first resort,” he said.

Indeed, according to the association, the number of individuals apprehended under the Mental Health Act has quadrupled since 2002.

Chilliwack is no exception. Local RCMP spend an inordinate amount of time responding to situations that have mental illness at their core – not criminal behaviour.

Like many detachments, Chilliwack has a dedicated officer who co-ordinates dealings with people whose mental illness brings them into frequent contact with the police.

But the task is huge, and the gaps difficult to fill.

City mayors are turning up the pressure on governments. They plan to debate the issue at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. Among the issues being discussed is the reopening of Riverview Hospital. That institution was finally closed for good in 2012 after a slow devolution of over 10 years.

The concept behind the closure was sound. The practice of housing individuals in giant institutional warehouses was seen as antiquated and, indeed, barbaric. The idea was that these individuals would respond better, and their care would be more humane, if they were treated in the community.

But while governments have been good a closing institutions, they’ve struggled providing adequate support outside those institutions.

The reasons are complex. But the results are what we’ve been seeing in our cities for years.

Calls for action are bandied about so frequently it’s hard not to become discouraged.

But we cannot surrender to cynicism. The current system has limped along for far too long. It’s time to get it fixed.