Investing in mental health care

Our Health Minister Robert Henderson continues to assure us that there is no mental health crisis on Prince Edward Island.  

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In June 2015, I had the honour of representing Prince Edward Island as a member of the Canadian Citizen Reference Panel in Ottawa. Alongside the Mental Health Commission of Canada and countless other organizations and individuals too numerous to list, we aided in the creation of a mental health action plan for Canada. 

I did my best to represent Prince Edward Island, and the voices of all our communities were well represented, including LGBT communities, Indigenous and First Nations communities, immigrant and refugee communities, our youth, elders, families struggling with mental health/health issues, people living with addictions, professionals working in these areas, families living in poverty, caregivers, our farmers, among others. 

As Canadians on the panel, we all agreed, early intervention and prevention is key as we move forward. What better place to address early intervention and prevention than in our provincial school system? Integrating resilience building, coping skills and emotion/self regulation is where robust mental health starts.

Critically examining the current curriculum is crucial, in particular the primary years where development does not meet curricular expectations. Rather than sitting at a desk all day, what children require for healthy brain development is movement and free play.

By promoting activities for children that nurture brain development we are proving that not only is health and wellbeing important to us but that we are going to ensure that all children have an equal learning opportunity for a healthy life. 

As we know, children enter the school system having had tremendously different life experiences. By properly understanding brain development and matching curriculum, we are helping all children from our most to least healthy and therefore investing in a healthier future for our province.

Families are suffering, often times in isolation, and are reaching out for support where there is little. It's dismaying, as so many of these situations have a solution. I am not suggesting they are easy solutions, or that they are going to be resolved overnight, but it isn't beyond the scope of what can be addressed. 

The type of change I'm talking about involves community; a true vision of what community is and what it can be. It means empowerment, it means education. 

As Maya Angelou stated: “If it is true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, isn’t it also true that a society is only as healthy as its sickest citizen and only as wealthy as its most deprived?” 

The message from the World Health Organization during the citizen reference panel was clear. If we do not begin to truly invest in mental health care by the year 2024, Canada will be in crisis. If what we are currently experiencing on Prince Edward Island is not considered crisis, I am truly concerned about what that's going to look like.

- Karla Bernard, MEd. Is education critic for the Green Party of P.E.I.

Originally published August 15, 2017 in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/opinion/2017/8/15/karla-bernard--investing-in-mental-health-care.html