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