Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall

Mungall takes mental health fight to legislature

Nelson-Creston MLA demands action from government on intensifying mental health crisis.

Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall voiced her frustration with the government’s lack of action on dealing with the intensifying mental health crisis in the province during an impassioned speech at the legislature on May 26.

“What we see on the streets of our communities is people with mental illnesses not getting the support they need and being criminalized as a result,” she said, while acting as house leader.

Mungall was adding her voice to that of Nelson Police Chief Wayne Holland and the RCMP, who have noted the drain the crisis has had on police forces at the local level.

Mungall and six of her colleagues dedicated the entire question period to the issue.

“There were seven of us illustrating how much of a crisis we’re in, and how many communities have been impacted by the lack of proper mental health supports.”

After her speech in the legislature, Mungall spoke to the Star about her frustration with the government’s inaction on this issue. She said the Liberals have been “downloading” the cost of dealing with the crisis to local communities.

“The Nelson Police Department and my colleagues have been calling on the government and raising this alarm bell for many, many years,” she said.

“There are great ways we could be better helping people with mental illness, but we haven’t been delivering those programs to the level it’s needed. We’ve been calling for better supports for many years, but what’s really stemmed the tide is municipalities coming forward with numbers from the police and the RCMP. And Nelson is a case in point.”

She said she feels personally alarmed by the situation.

“We’re at such a crisis level it’s hard to ignore. The Liberals have taken small steps, but nowhere near the steps that need to be taken.”

Mungall said it’s not appropriate to use police when responding to episodes involving those with mental health issues. Instead, they should be receiving treatment and care from trained professionals.

“The only service these people receive is through the police. And the police are the last people who want to be in a situation where they have to put somebody who’s sick in jail for something that could’ve been prevented had they gotten appropriate care.”

During question period, Minister of Health Terry Lake fired back at Mungall.

“I had to remind myself again, in case I missed it somewhere in the NDP election platform from 2013…where all the new services were that they promised in their election campaign. They’re not there. No new health facilities in their election campaign. None whatsoever.”

He went on to say the Liberals have recently opened Hope Centre at Lions Gate Hospital, as well as a new family health centre under construction at Vancouver General Hospital. He didn’t mention Nelson specifically.

“We have more to do, because we are investing in mental health support, both in facilities and in supports in the community. We’ll continue to do that, unlike the NDP, who never, never said what they would do in their campaign promises. We are delivering on our promises, and we’ll continue to deliver on our promises.”

Two days before Mungall’s speech, on May 24, an emotionally distraught woman confronted the police with a knife and was tasered. Though the incident resulted in no series injuries, she was committed to Kootenay Lake Hospital for further care.

That’s only the most recent example of the sort of danger the government is putting police forces in, said Mungall. And the government knows about it.

She said a report on the mental health crisis completed by parliamentary secretary Darryl Plecas was delivered to the government last year, but they didn’t respond appropriately.

“Here’s another great report sitting on a shelf somewhere. They know the extent of the issue, they know what it’s costing to local governments, and they know it’s more expensive that providing appropriate care. Despite all of this, they go for piece-meal solutions and one-offs. And that’s not good enough.”

She said though solutions may be daunting, she believes the government is capable of addressing it.

“Surely if we can get to the moon, we can provide people with mental health issues the care they deserve and need.”

Mungall’s speech is available on YouTube.

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