Niagara Falls council unanimously supported a bill that would join as many as 11 mental health ministries together to create a standalone ministry of mental health and addictions in the province.
The bill (Bill 149) would give the ministry a budget and staff, a representative in the House of Commons, and would provide better training for first responders who deal with mental health issues.
MPP Wayne Gates said to council that the organization is long overdue in Ontario.
“A lot of young people are committing suicide today. We have a crisis in First Nations among mental health and drug addiction. This is a very very important bill to get moved forward as quickly as possible.”
Gates said seven years ago a report came out which highlighted a “horrifying” lack of mental health resources in the province.
He says of the 23 recommendations included in the report, only three have been implemented today.
“Today in Ontario, 12,000 children are waiting for access to mental health … they have to wait up to wait up to 18 months for mental health services. These are children in need. If we can’t provide for our children, who can we provide for?”
It’s not just children either, Gates said, telling council of a case where a 17-year-old lost both of his parents to a suicide by overdose, “simply because they could not access the health support they needed.”
“It doesn’t need to be that way and we can do better,” said Gates.
Coun. Wayne Campbell, who lost his daughter Katey to suicide due to mental health struggles in 2003, noted that often it's the criminal justice system in Ontario that deals with mental health issues.
“People are using drugs and alcohol to ease their mental health problems,” said Campbell. “And with our daughter Katey, they never talked about the cause of the addictions, they just treated her like a Saturday night drunk at the hospital.”
He said there are more than 30 organizations in community that work with mental health, but that they all work in asylum.
“No one communicates with anyone else. And one of the worst things that my daughter hated most was going from silo to silo and having to re-tell the story over and over and over again.”
Mayor Jim Diodati said Niagara faces a high rate of mental health and addiction issues, and that local mental health centres, experts, and local representatives have expressed serious concerns with the government’s approach, prior to to proposal of Bill 149.
“Obviously as you look around and you see the statistics where one-in-four or one-in-five people — depending on which stat you look at — are affected by mental health, and if you look around this room there are 40 people. If you do those statistics, eight people are affected in some way by mental health,” said Diodati.
“And unfortunately as (Campbell and Gates) say, a lot of time the criminal system deals with them in the wrong way… it’s good that it’s finally being recognized.”
Diodati says they’re finally shattering the stigma, sending a message that it’s okay to go seek help.
Coun. Kim Craitor read the motion for supporting the bill, which was unanimously passed by council.
Gates said the bill will “fix the healthcare crisis in Niagara.”
“This city has lost much over the years — our hospice maternity services, our mental health services and many others … We can work together to right this wrong,” said Gates. “Regardless of what party you support, we can all agree Ontario hasn’t done enough.”
Gates says Bill 149 is supported by all three major federal parties.
Chad Morris, a Niagara Falls resident who has suffered from mental health issues for most of his life, says he is glad to see the city address the problems with mental health support.
“Mental illness still has years to go, but this sounds huge,” said Morris. “It shows they believe this is a disease and are treating it as such. We've lost too many lives. Let's start saving more.”
Morris has been in a hospital in St. Catharines for weeks due to to mental health struggles. He says he couldn’t find help in Niagara Falls, trying different support outlets that would send him home too soon or call the police, who weren’t properly trained to deal with mental health situations.
He says he needed to go to St. Catharines to find the care he was looking for.
“We have nothing in comparison to St. Catharines,” said Morris.
“The support I've received from city council, the mayor, Wayne Campbell and Mike Strange, I can't thank enough and that is true, but we need help in our city … people are dying as we do this.”
Coun. Kim Craitor said he remembers when the problems were highlighted seven years ago and takes part of the blame for letting the problem continue. He said he “can’t even imagine” the number of lives that could have been changed or saved if the government had created a mental health ministry “when we should have.”