OPIN­ION

Nova Sco­tia had the chance to lead the coun­try in the bat­tle against men­tal ill­ness

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton - Cindy MacRae A former broad­caster and small busi­ness owner, Cindy MacRae is a free­lance journalist and men­tal health ad­vo­cate who lives near Bad­deck.

The story of men­tal health peer sup­port in Nova Sco­tia is not a happy one, says a Cape Bre­ton woman.

When I first heard about the Dex­ter gov­ern­ment’s new Men­tal Health Peer Sup­port Pro­gram sev­eral years ago I leapt at the chance to help some­one else deal with their men­tal health prob­lems.

I moved home from Toronto in 2005 af­ter be­com­ing ill with Ma­jor De­pres­sive Disor­der. I have made no se­cret of my ill­ness or the fact that it was the worst time of my life. I can’t help won­der­ing how much eas­ier it would have been if I had some­one to listen to me who re­ally un­der­stood what I was go­ing through.

That is the premise be­hind peer sup­port, so I was thrilled when I was picked to train as a Men­tal Health Peer Sup­port Worker in 2013, along with ap­prox­i­mately 40 other peo­ple. We were told the goal was to cover the prov­ince like a blan­ket, and that we would all be of­fered part time jobs (at least start­ing out) in or­der to do so.

The newly elected Lib­eral gov­ern­ment re-it­er­ated its sup­port for what was to be the first prov­ince-wide pro­gram in the coun­try. In the spring of 2014, Nova Sco­tia hosted the first Na­tional Con­fer­ence on Peer Sup­port in Hal­i­fax. Those of us “in wait­ing” were in­vited to at­tend, all ex­penses paid by the tax­pay­ers once again. At the clos­ing ban­quet we were asked to stand and re­ceive recog­ni­tion for our ef­forts from the hun­dreds of peo­ple in the room. It was one of the proud­est mo­ments of my life.

In March of 2015 I was in­vited to ap­ply for a post­ing as a peer sup­port worker in Cape Bre­ton. As far as I know only two peo­ple from our group of about 20 peo­ple (two groups were trained in­de­pen­dently in 2013) were of­fered a job and only one of them is work­ing as a peer sup­porter to­day.

Through the grapevine I heard that a re­view of the pro­gram had been or­dered. The gov­ern­ment then de­cided to take it from the non-profit, which was in charge of im­ple­men­ta­tion, and give it to the Que­bec com­pany Men­tal Health In­no­va­tions with the goal of putting it back on track.

By 2016 the wheels on the sput­ter­ing peer sup­port bus had ground to a halt. In Au­gust I phoned Men­tal Health In­no­va­tions and was told the pro­gram would be rolling out within the next year and they would want to keep in touch with me and all the other peo­ple who had trained.

In April of this year I re­ceived an email from yet an­other con­sul­tant, The VP of Peo­ple Solutions and Con­sult­ing Ser­vices, HR Pros Inc., in which I was in­vited to ap­ply for one of eight part-time peer sup­port post­ings at hos­pi­tals across the prov­ince. An­other mem­ber of the group from Cape Bre­ton did not even get the email.

When I called the con­sul­tant to make sure she had re­ceived my ap­pli­ca­tion she re­fused to tell me. There was no ac­knowl­edge­ment from any­one that I and ap­prox­i­mately 40 other peo­ple had ac­tu­ally been trained for these jobs years ago.

I re­cently heard through the grapevine that the Nova Sco­tia Health Author­ity is wel­com­ing ap­pli­ca­tions from peo­ple who want to be trained as peer sup­port work­ers in June.

It is also in­ter­est­ing to note the re­vamped qual­i­fi­ca­tions to be a peer sup­port worker. When I was trained you had to have lived ex­pe­ri­ence with men­tal ill­ness and be in a healthy state of re­cov­ery. Now those qual­i­fi­ca­tions have changed to lived ex­pe­ri­ence with men­tal ill­ness or ad­dic­tion. This makes me won­der if the sys­tem is sud­denly pan­der­ing to all the ad­dic­tion coun­selors laid off by the McNeil gov­ern­ment.

The men­tal health sys­tem is in cri­sis and the peer sup­port pro­gram is a joke. Nova Sco­tia had the chance to lead the coun­try in the bat­tle against men­tal ill­ness. In­stead peer sup­port has been a non­sen­si­cal legacy of in­com­pe­tence and in­dif­fer­ence.

I am angry with my­self for naively buy­ing into the lip ser­vice given to men­tal health by our pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. I am angry for the tax­pay­ers of Nova Sco­tia who wasted hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars (at the least) on a pro­gram that has gone nowhere. I am sad for the dozens of won­der­ful peo­ple who have been de­nied the chance at a great job help­ing other peo­ple. Most of all I am sad for the peo­ple who are suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness and have to wait the bet­ter part of a year to even be­gin treat­ment.

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment trained more than 40 peo­ple, hired only a handful and is now spend­ing more money to train more peo­ple while a pool of peo­ple al­ready trained sit idle and thou­sands of peo­ple need help. How sad for the peo­ple of Nova Sco­tia.

“I am angry for the tax­pay­ers of Nova Sco­tia who wasted hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars (at the least) on a pro­gram that has gone nowhere. “

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