Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford is echoing a call for additional support for mental health care after B.C.’s child and youth watchdog cited an “alarming” increase in involuntary youth detentions.
Earlier this week, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, released a report saying she has heard harrowing stories from those who were involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness without being granted access to legal advice.
She said over the past decade, the number of children held under the Mental Health Act has increased 162 per cent, calling into question the system of care and treatment. Involuntary youth detentions can re-traumatize already traumatized youth, she said.
Charlesworth is calling on the government to amend the Mental Health Act to allow youth to have access to a legal advocate while they’re in care.
Halford, who is the BC Liberal opposition critic for mental health and addictions, is adding his support to the recommendation, but he also went a step further, calling on the government to increase funding to the ministry.
He says as it stands right now, the premier’s office has a bigger budget than that allocated to mental health and addictions.
“That, to me, doesn’t make a lot of sense … especially in the wake of a pandemic, especially in the wake of an opioid epidemic,” Halford said.
In a letter addressed to BC Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson, Halford wrote that in May of last year, there were more than 2,500 youth on B.C. wait lists for mental health support.
The wait times, he said, can be up to two months or longer before a youth begins to receive the support they require.
“And when you’re dealing with mental illness and addictions, you can’t wait for support. The support needs to be in real time. But I think that the system is so stretched right now.”
The wait time led to a tragic ending earlier this month on Vancouver Island after a 16-year-old boy, who was suffering from depression, took his life.
Andre Courtemanche left his home on Jan. 1. On Jan. 4, the boy’s family received a call about setting up an appointment with a psychiatrist to talk about his depression. It was a call the family had reportedly waited two years to receive.
By then, it was too late.
On the evening of Jan. 9, Andre’s body was discovered at Goldstream Provincial Park in Langford by volunteer groups, including Metchosin and Juan de Fuca search and rescue teams.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Kirsten Marten, organizer of a Facebook group formed to help in the search for Andre.
“No child should ever feel as destitute as Andre was that day, believing that there was nothing left. Depression took over his life. This lack of support cannot happen to any more kids.”
– files from Black Press Media