N.S. Opposition calls on province to fix ‘failing’ mental health system

Just weeks ahead of the release of a brand new annual budget, Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives are calling on the government to double down on support for mental health.

Joined by mental health advocates on Wednesday, they accused Stephen McNeil’s Liberals of “failing” children and families with a “broken” system that has left the most vulnerable patients without the care they need.

“To break the stigma on mental health I believe we need to share our stories and we need to have honest conversations about mental health,” said John Lohr, PC critic for addictions and mental health, at the press conference.

“And we need to recognize the system is failing, there needs to be more resources and a stronger response to mental health.”

Russ and Yanna Conway of Bedford agreed. Their son Garret took his own life at the age of 24 after years of struggling with addiction.

On March 6 last year, he was admitted to the hospital after an overdose on his medication. He was released, they said, in less than a day without seeing a psychiatrist, despite his medical history, and while his parents were out of the province.

He had been deemed a “low risk” for suicide, but within two hours of his release, took his own life.

“He went through all of the assessment, he was released at low risk and he walked out those doors and no one could tell you for sure who received him,” Yanna told reporters. “That’s wrong and that has to change.”

“Even though it’s painful to be here on the one-year anniversary of the day that it happened,” added Russ, “we would consider it no greater honour than to help fight for a change in what is taking place in this province.”

Speaking to reporters, Premier Stephen McNeil said his government’s investment portfolio reflects the advice it has received from mental health experts, with a particular emphasis on mental health support for adolescents. But he couldn’t confirm whether the upcoming provincial budget would include additional supports, or stay the course.

“We’re continuing to invest and reinvest and put more money in every year,” he said. “Obviously we’ll continue to support that but we rely on the clinicians to provide us with the direction and public policy positions that we move on.”

If elected, Lohr said the PCs would create a separate provincial department for addictions and mental health.

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