Monday, December 17, 2012

Tragedy results from mental health system, safety net that fall

This was a letter I wrote to the Editor that was published in the Vancouver Sun. Tracey Young, December 17, 2012. 
 
 
My heart goes out to the three women who had the misfortune to cross the path of Nicholas Osuteye. We should consider all of these individuals victims of the failing civil mental health system of care and a social safety net that fails the most vulnerable and high-risk people every day in B.C.

As a social worker who has worked in psychiatric inpatient units with individuals experiencing acute, severe and chronic psychiatric disorders, I can tell you Mr. Osuteye's experience with B.C.'s acute psychiatric system is not uncommon.

He also faced unique, made-in-B.C. structural barriers to receiving the help and support he required, putting him and others at-risk.

Media reports suggest Mr. Osuteye voluntarily went to hospital because he wanted help with medication. If Mr. Osuteye has been here for less than three months, he would not meet the residency requirements for medical coverage under the policies of the current health insurance regime of the B.C. government. Therefore, he likely had no way to pay for his stay in hospital and no way to pay for medications, which would not be covered.

Mr. Osuteye also would not have met the residency requirements for applying for crisis income assistance with the Ministry of Social Development if he were here less than three months.

Even if he had access to a computer, which is how people must apply now, he likely would not have been able to navigate the Byzantine application process due to his acute illness.

If he had tried to call an office, he likely would have been unable to get through to speak to a human being due to the automated telephone system which bureaucratically ensures fewer people can successfully apply for income assistance.

In my work as a psychiatric social worker at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital my colleagues and I saw clear anecdotal evidence that individuals who were not receiving necessary civil mental health care, treatment and admission to acute psychiatric units in local hospitals (if needed), or those who were discharged before stabilization, and with a lack of solid discharge plans to support them in the community, often ended up committing criminal code violations while acutely mentally ill.

Many of these individuals go on to be found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD) and are then subject to lengthy time spent in the much more expensive Forensic Psychiatric system that taxpayers are funding.

In the last decade, the B.C. government has created grand mental health plans for children, youth and adults, but their failure to adequately resource these required systems of care has put many at risk.

Tragedies like this case occur because of the unspoken, unacknowledged failure of the B.C. government for its lack of leadership, monitoring, accountability and adequate funding of the mental health system of care. It is time for them to take responsibility and to stop new tragedies from occurring. They are the only ones who can do it.

Tracey Young Vancouver

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