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ANDY WALKER: Tackling a powerful and taboo topic

Ellen Taylor, speaks at a forum on mental health and addictions at The Guild on Tuesday. The forum drew together service providers and several individuals who have experience navigating the sometimes disjointed supports within the health system for mental health and addictions. Stu Neatby/THE GUARDIAN
Ellen Taylor, speaks at a forum on mental health and addictions at The Guild on Tuesday. The forum drew together service providers and several individuals who have experience navigating the sometimes disjointed supports within the health system for mental health and addictions. - Stu Neatby

The stories were powerful.

In what was termed a "call to action" forum recently at the Guild this week, several speakers shared stories about the struggles of themselves or family members in getting help in dealing with addictions and mental health issues. 

Such a session would have been unthinkable in the not too distant past, as problems with addictions and mental health were considered taboo topics for public discourse.
The emotional session clearly showed there are still too many people falling through the cracks of the province's mental health and addictions system. 

Courtney Crosby shared her mother's struggle with an addiction to painkillers, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. She died of an overdose in 2017 after failing to obtain out-of-province treatment recommended by her doctor.

The event was hosted by Ellen Taylor, a recovering addict, who is pressuring the province to increase the number of addictions counsellors and detox beds so the wait time can be reduced. 

The list of speakers also included Brandon Bowers, who is marking eight years of sobriety. He was once told by a treatment worker the success rate for addiction treatment was one in 12, adding,  "If only one in 12 people who got cancer survived, we would constantly be screaming for a cure."

Provincial officials were at the forum and talked about the help available including a new mental health program in schools and a number of transition houses. There will also be a stand-alone emergency department for mental health and addictions at the new Hillsborough Hospital, which is slated to open in 2024 or 2025. 

Health Minister James Aylward also told the attendees there were also plans to offer more mental health and addiction services in other parts of the province. 

These measures will certainly help. The sad reality is there will never be a 100 per cent success rate, but that should always be the goal of everybody involved in the process. Those seeking mental health and addictions treatment are not statistics – they are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and friends. They deserve our best collective effort. 

There were also some powerful stories when a new program called FarmersTalk was launched recently at the annual meeting of the Federation of Agriculture. Similar to the Bell Let's Talk campaign, the website and accompanying resources encourage farmers to seek help dealing with mental health issues.

Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson told a powerful story of helping to transport a fellow farmer's cattle to market after he committed suicide. Long-time farmer Donald MacDonald told of a conversation with a fellow producer about low prices who told him he would be in the industry until he died. The man committed suicide the next day.

These stories are not easy to talk about or listen to. They should prompt action. They should make us go the extra mile to encourage those that need help to seek it. They should make us pressure government to ensure the resources are there when those that need help find the courage to ask for it.


Andy Walker is a former reporter for the Journal-Pioneer and is now a freelance writer who lives in Cornwall, P.E.I. awalker@islandtelecom.com.

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