People suffering from mental illness should be getting help, not getting arrested.
That was the message Vancouver Police Department Chief Jim Chu and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Roberts had for the provincial government on Friday.
The answer for someone suffering a mental-health crisis is not a cop with a gun. When a crime is committed, often our only option is to arrest, prosecute and jail that offender, Chu told a media conference on Friday. We need a shift from dealing with the crisis to preventing the crisis from occurring in the first place.
St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver has seen during the past three years a 43 per cent increase in people with severe mental-health trouble or addiction. And about 21 per cent of the Vancouver police's call volume involves someone who is mentally ill, Chu said.
Chu and Roberts called for the addition of 300 long-term, mental health treatment beds in B.C.; more B.C. Housing facilities staffed to help the mentally ill; a mental health crisis centre in Vancouver; and a mental health outreach team staffed by police and healthcare worker.
While those recommendations are a start, it's not enough. The impact of B.C.'s inadequate mental health system can be seen on the streets of Prince George, and other northern communities, every day.
Instead of compassionate care and treatment, many people with severe mental illnesses are left to live on the street -where drug dealers are more than happy to help them self-medicate with illegal drugs.
According to research done in the U.S. in 2006, 30 to 40 per cent of patients being treated for addictions suffer from mood and anxiety disorders. Over 20 per cent of people with mood disorders also have substance abuse issues, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions found.
And those living on the street are only a small, visible minority of people living with mental illness. The invisible majority of people with mental illnesses live and work in our neighbourhoods and businesses.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will suffer some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Approximately one per cent of Canadians suffer from bipolar disorder, while another one per cent suffer from schizophrenia.
According to the association, 49 per cent of people who suffer from depression or anxiety will not seek treatment. In B.C. there would be little help available for them if they did, anyway.
For the B.C. government, choosing not to adequately treat mental illness still has a cost.
It's a human cost paid in suicides, attempted suicides, loss of quality of life, loss of jobs and relationships, and the feeling of being alone.
It's also a financial cost paid in additional policing, emergency room visits, court and jail costs.
According to The Report on Mental Illness in Canada done in 2002, the estimated cost of mental illness in Canada in 1998 was $14.2 billion - including billions of dollars of health care services, uninsured health care, disability costs, early deaths and lost work time.
In 1999, an estimated 3.8 per cent of all hospital admissions were due to mental health disorders, excluding addictions.
Instead of continuing to turn a blind eye to the suffering of British Columbians, it's time for the provincial government to live up to its obligation to provide adequate mental health services for its residents.
Mayor Shari Green and Prince George RCMP Supt. Eric Stubbs should add their voices to those of Chu and Roberts. Perhaps if enough community leaders speak out, Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals can be shamed into doing the right thing: treating mental illness as it should be treated, like any other illness.
-- Associate news editor Arthur Williams, with files from the Canadian Press