Partnerships, hope and increased resources were seen as key pieces in addressing the community mental health crisis during a town hall meeting Tuesday night.
Many pieces of Guelph’s response to community mental health issues came together at Our Lady Of Lourdes high school at a meeting organized by MP Lloyd Longfield
Front line crisis workers, psychologists, educators, downtown businesses and even those with mental health issues gathered to discuss what the problem is and what can be done to help address it.
One thing was clear: there is no one answer to such a complex issue.
“There is hope, and hope is one of the best places to start,” said Raechelle Devereaux, Executive Director of the Guelph Community Health Centre.
“Hope and realizing what’s possible. This is all of our community,” Devereaux said.
Longfield was joined on stage by Devereaux, Guelph Police Chief Jeff DeRuyter, and Downtown Guelph Business Association Executive Director Marty Williams.
The Guelph MP, who has held several town halls and round tables on mental health, said the common goal is to find ways of helping.
“The goal is to wrap the community services around people that need help rather than just writing them off,” the MP said.
“The challenge is how do we pull the conversations together?”
Devereaux spoke of the front-line, proactive efforts being done to address mental health issues: from specialized outreach workers meeting with homeless and under-housed community members where they are at in the community to a weekly walk-in Rapid Access Addictions Clinic downtown staffed by professionals and peer workers.
DeRuyter spoke of advances in policing that include using mental health workers in front line situations if it is called for.
That helps people get the kind of help they need and diverts them from other avenues.
Last year, he said, those mental health workers helped divert 638 people away from the emergency ward.
“I’ve been in policing for 32 years and the biggest change I’ve seen is the demands for mental health,” DeRuyter said.
“Partnerships are really the key to a safe city and a safe downtown,” he said. “The police can not do it alone.”
Williams said that while downtown businesses are looking to “protect their investment,” they are also concerned about what is happening and want to be part of the solution, but need more tools.
“In no way are we looking for any solution that sweeps this under the carpet or scrubs it away,” Williams said.
“We are working as an organization about what is available and what is going on,” Williams said.
“Street level folks feel like the canary in the coal mine …. We’ve gone from bemused and taken aback to truly being frightened out there.”
Points from the audience made mostly by professionals addressed a wide range of issues and challenges they face, including:
Doctors don’t do a good job of explaining the side effects of medication.
More mental health resources in the school system can help the situation from worsening.
There aren’t enough psychiatrists for adults in Guelph and for children it’s even worse.
Core issues such as affordable/supportive housing and poverty need to be addressed because they can cause and fuel mental health issues.
There are only enough resources in the community to address critical care mental health situations.
Mental health first aid training in the workplace (which the government has a free program for) is important.
In many other countries mental health and health are treated more equally in the healthcare system.
Mental health and addiction need to be treated concurrently more often, not as separate issues.