King government’s empty promises on mental health is hurting Islanders and costing lives

For years Islanders have been begging for increased mental health support on PEI. Premier King ran a campaign focused on getting “shovels in the ground on day one” for the long awaited Mental Health Hospital. Not only did Premier King fail to expedite the construction of the hospital, but his government recently announced that the hospital opening will AGAIN be pushed back at least another two years to 2025-26 – a whopping four years later than his election promise.

A timeline of discouragement

It has been 18 months since the mental health forum at The Guild where a panel of mental health advocates share their lived experiences with the former Health Minister. At the forum, the best the Minister could do was suggest creating more bureaucracy by making a new cabinet position for mental health.

It has been 9 months since the members of the Legislative Assembly unanimously passed the Official Opposition motion calling on government to make mental health and addiction services a priority.

There is still no plan

So what has Premier King done to make mental health and addiction services a priority? A mobile mental health crisis intervention? No. His government still hasn’t gotten that service off the ground after over a year of controversy and struggle. More access to primary care? A safe injection site? Easy to access early intervention programming? Reopening the PUCC at PCH and QEH? No, no, no, and no.

More bureaucratic silos and more study is not the answer

Instead, this week the King government announced a Mental Health and Addictions Research Centre. One that has been in the works for over a year now and was already a topic of discussion in the Legislature because of the lack of evidence it used to support decisions regarding the Mobile Mental Health Units. In that study, 4 people were asked their opinion on a topic and it was passed on as “evidence”. This gives no confidence in the validity of ‘research’ this centre will produce.

An interesting tidbit about this centre is the fact that it will be run by the Minister of Health’s daughter. While Dr. Hudson may have qualifications to lead research, the fact that this government has done absolutely nothing to advance this critical file and now suddenly hires a family member smacks of political patronage and is leading many Islanders to question the validity of this decision to do more ‘research’.

A research centre should be arms length from the government. If not, it is set up to be nothing more than an echo chamber for government so it can make political decisions under the guise of research.

We have a university and a Doctor of Psychology program right here on PEI. Why not provide public funding to that program to secure student research, which will encourage them to build relationships within the province so they stay and practice here?

Mental health is NOT a priority for the King government

This is not just another broken campaign promise. This is a clear message to Islanders. Islanders struggling with mental health and addiction challenges are not a priority for Premier King. If they were, then his actions would be vastly different. He would have increased support, not increased bureaucratic positions.

I want to be clear. I, along with the rest of the Official Opposition caucus, believe in and respect the need for strong and solid research. We base our policy work on evidence and best practice. However, we are also keenly aware that research should never trump people’s immediate need for help and treatment.

There are already medical journals full of evidence-based research that can be used to start offering intervention and treatments today. We don’t need more research to tell us that Islanders need better access to mental health and addiction services. We need less red tape and a focus on accessibility. And, in fact, the only research the King government needs to collect is how many Islanders need mental health support and use that to develop a plan to provide care and help.

We demand action from the King government

Our recent capital budget submission called on government to build a new detox facility in Summerside. This and so many other actions could be taken on PEI without the need for any new research. Islanders know what is needed, they’ve been telling Premier King and his various Ministers of Health for more than two years. If only he would listen.

Islanders are struggling. Islanders are dying. Our family members, our children, our friends are suffering and dying. Mental health and addictions affect nearly everyone. Islanders understand that and they are demanding that government finally do something about it. Premier King is failing Islanders in a most uncaring and unkind way.