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What are peer-assisted crisis teams, and why does B.C. need them? Fast facts

North Shore has a team, and New Westminster and Victoria are getting PACTs this summer. Here's why it matters.
Mental Health Crisis
People in mental health crisis will have a new place to turn when peer-assisted crisis teams (PACTs) come to New Westminster and Victoria. A team is already working on the North Shore.

New peer-assisted crisis teams are set to launch this summer in New Westminster and Victoria – giving people with mental health and substance use crises an alternative to calling police.

This week (April 11), the B.C. government announced $1.26 million to get the two new PACTs off the ground and to expand an existing pilot program on the North Shore.

So what does it mean, and why does it matter? We break it all down here.

What is a peer-assisted crisis team (PACT)?

A peer-assisted crisis team (PACT) is a civilian-led alternative to calling police for mental health or substance uses crises.

The teams can respond instead of police and can also work alongside police and other responders, depending on the situation.

Each PACT teams a mental health professional with a peer worker to respond to crisis calls. They’re available to provide trauma-informed support to youth aged 13+ and adults.

"A peer-integrated response is essential," said Julia Kaisla, executive director, CMHA North and West Vancouver Branch, in a press release. "Over and over, people with living experience of mental illness and substance use have asked us to stop trying to fix them and just make space to hear them. Our team deploys a peer and a mental-health professional to visit with people in their home. We learn about their journey and start building a meaningful relationship with an individual and their family. As we walk with them, we give them help and hope for a new vision of the future."

Where are PACTs in operation in B.C.?

A North Shore team, led by the CMHA North and West Vancouver Branch, has been going since November 2021 and has responded to more than 235 calls so far.

New teams in New Westminster and Victoria are being set up now and are expected to be operational by this summer (2022).

Are civilian-led crisis teams operating elsewhere in the world?

  • Oregon, New Zealand and Sweden have highly successful civilian models that include front-line workers trained in risk management and de-escalation, with police support available.
  • The CAHOOTS community-based crisis-intervention team in Eugene, Ore. averts approximately $8.5 million in policing costs annually and answers 17% of police calls, according to the B.C. government.

Why does B.C. need mental health crisis teams?

  • In B.C., one in five interactions with police involve someone with a mental-health disorder.
  • The Canadian Mental Health Association-B.C. division estimates that 44% of all people who rate their mental health as poor in B.C. would be unwilling to call 911 during a mental-health crisis.
  • Studies in Canada and other jurisdictions indicate the majority of people in crisis do not receive health care as a result of police response.

What kind of calls do PACTs take?

You can reach out to the PACT when you or someone around you is in distress due to:

  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide;
  • family members experiencing challenges;
  • substance use;
  • loss of reality;
  • feelings of hopelessness or despair;
  • social isolation and loneliness;
  • fear, anxiety and depression; or
  • other mental health-related emergencies.

What help can PACTs offer?

The CMHA North and West Vancouver Branch notes the crisis teams can:

  • offer support to you or your loved one over the phone, text or in-person wherever you feel comfortable;
  • listen without judgement and provide a safe space for you to share your story and tell us what is going on;
  • provide crisis counselling and de-escalation;
  • advocate for you and accompany you to emergency departments, police stations or community organizations;
  • connect you to the appropriate resources, services and supports in the community to meet your underlying needs; and
  • provide short-term follow-up care to you and your family after a crisis event.

What the PACT teams can NOT do:

  • Transport you or your loved one from one place to another in the staff vehicle (if needed, transportation will be provided through taxi services);
  • Perform psychological assessments to diagnose mental illnesses or write prescriptions for medication;
  • Make referrals to psychiatrists or other medical specialists for specific treatments for mental or physical health conditions (but they can help you to access primary care);
  • Fast-track applications for housing, income or disability assistance, or mental health services.

How to contact the North Shore PACT:

On the North Shore, people in distress and their families can access the PACT Thursday to Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight by calling 1-888-261-7228 or texting 778 839-1831. Service is available in English and Farsi.

You can find more information at the CMHA North and West Vancouver Branch website.

– sources: B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and Canadian Mental Health Association North and West Vancouver Branch

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, [email protected].