Mentally ill finally get more local help

This article was originally seen in the Record. Please follow the link it see the original here
May 05, 2009

RECORD STAFF

KITCHENER

Elaine Paton remembers the long drive home after visiting her son in London’s psychiatric centre, where he was being treated for a severe mental health disorder.

Crying all the way, Paton wished her son could be in Kitchener so she could see him more than once a week.

“It was hard to have him scared a long way away,” she said yesterday as construction was launched on a mental health centre where Waterloo Region residents will be able to get help.

The 50-bed facility is being built at the Freeport site of Grand River Hospital.

In two years or so, people in this area who are coping with mental illness won’t have to travel far for treatment, or their families far for visits.

John Milloy, the Kitchener Centre MPP and minister of training, colleges and universities, announced at the groundbreaking ceremony yesterday that an additional $1.6 million has been committed to the project, bringing total funding to almost $13.6 million. The Ministry of Health is funding the project.

This expansion of mental-health services is more than a decade coming. The Health Services Restructuring Commission called for it in 1998.

Paton, who spoke as a representative of patients’ families, got teary seeing people who have helped her family.

“And mainly that there’s going to be more services right here in town,” said Paton, whose son is now in his 30s and doing fine since his release from hospital in 2002.

“I’m crying because I’m happy.”

The new facility will have 10 beds for elderly patients and 33 for patients with severe and persistent mental-health problems. There will be a seven-bed transition unit.

There will also be outpatient and outreach services, including day programs to support patients while they are in hospital, and when they are living in the community.

Paton is thankful more local services are on the way but said these are just beginning.

“It’s never enough. There’s so much need, but it’s such a big step forward.”

That sentiment was echoed by Michael Howlett, president of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The non-profit organization, funded by the federal government, was created to focus national attention on mental-health issues.

“The reality is that people with mental-health issues have been in the shadow of our health-care system,” Howlett told the audience.

Integrating mental-health care into the health care system is essential, he said, and Canada has a long way to go to treating mental illness like any other disease.

“The brain is just another part of our body,” Howlett said.

Yet, the “stigma is so common that somehow it’s accepted.”

Howlett commended Grand River Hospital for its leadership in getting the new facility to construction.

“You have a vision to work together to promote healing and hope,” he said.

Investing in mental-health services helps not only those coping with disorders, but also the economy. The costs of untreated mental illness are astronomical, from emergency medical care to lost productivity at work.

The new facility will look after patients, 16 years and older, for up to three months. Until now, patients requiring mental health care could stay for only a week or two at the acute care unit at the Grand River Hospital site in Kitchener.

Proper treatment for mental illness is essential, but unfortunately many people struggle needlessly in this country because of the stigma and shortfalls in care, Howlett said.

“Recovery is possible for the vast majority of people with mental illness,” he said.

jweidner@therecord.com

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