“It’s not acceptable.” These are the words used by Ellen Taylor when describing her own struggle with addiction and the frustration she faced when looking for help on PEI.
Last week, Ellen organized a forum for Islanders to share the pain and hopelessness they feel when facing addictions. She definitely hit a nerve. About 200 people crammed into a small room at the Guild to show the government that something needs to change.
As I stood among the crowd listening to story after story after story of Islanders who couldn’t get the help they so desperately needed and deserved, I realized just how right she was. It is not acceptable.
We need the right services and the right supports at the right time
A clear theme shared throughout the forum was the need to be able to access the right services and the right supports at the right time. Families spoke about numerous situations where long wait times between services caused even more harm. The call for action was loud and clear. We need to meet addicts and their families where and when they reach out for help.
However, Minister James Aylward seemed to miss this entirely. After listening to people share their personal experiences with addictions, hearing stories of families being torn apart, and about loved ones lost, the Minister could only imagine it may be best to split the health portfolio into two areas. He suggested creating another cabinet position for a Minister of Mental Health.
Increased bureaucracy is not the answer
This is so very disappointing and, quite frankly, infuriating. I cannot even imagine how the Minister believes more bureaucracy is the answer to this problem. It seems he is unable to place himself in the shoes of those who vulnerably shared their experiences. His response seemed more about him possibly feeling overwhelmed and less of wanting to engage deeply with Islanders in pain. Like it or not, the Minister must stand up and take responsibility for mental health and addictions. It’s not an easy job, but it’s the one you told Islanders you could handle.
The gaps in addictions services are unacceptable. While an overhaul of mental health and addictions services is underway here in PEI, that process is going to take years to complete. We need more support now to help people navigate between each state of their recovery process.
Provide leadership and meet Islanders at their point of need
How can we better support Islanders who are struggling with addiction? First, we need to meet them where they are with compassion and without blame. We need to truly listen. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are struggling. Only by doing so will we gain the understanding we need to address the barriers facing those in recovery.
This will lead to better outcomes, and a more satisfying life experience. It could even save the life of some Islanders who are currently feeling hopeless in their struggle with addictions. Our broken mental health and addictions system on PEI has caused enough harm already. It is time for our government to lead and give Islanders the hope and help they are dying to receive.
Trish Altass (MLA District 23 Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke) is the Official Opposition Critic for Health and Wellness