Addressing the Mental Health Crisis in Smiths Falls
Imagine, you have a family member experiencing dangerous psychiatric symptoms. Fearing for your safety and theirs, you call the police. You are then told you will be charged with mischief if you call again about this family member. Or let’s say you recently discovered that your apartment key unlocks several other units in your building. You go out one day and return to your home and notice some items missing. You call the police and report that you believe someone, who perhaps also discovered they had identical keys, entered your locked unit and removed these items. The responding officer then transports you to the hospital’s emergency room, for a psychiatric evaluation. An ambulance may or may not transport you to a Schedule One hospital where these psychiatric evaluations actually occur. The hospital in Smiths Falls does not have such designation under the Mental Health Act, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
These are just some of the stories about mental health experiences I have heard around town recently.
Mental health resources in Smiths Falls are in crisis. These agencies are overworked and underfunded, also reflective of the state of mental health services across the Province. People are suffering and cannot afford to wait for governments to decide they are a priority. Something needs to happen now. Someone needs to do something, now. We, as a community, need to fill the void right now. Besides these people and their families needlessly suffering, improper resources are also often diverted to help these overwhelmed mental health agencies cope with demand. Ambulance and emergency room visits tend to fill the gap, if not shelters in neighboring cities or some form of police custody.
Other cities and towns have implemented their own efforts to help people. I have worked in mental health in Ottawa for the last five years and have seen first-hand some of the measures the city has put in place to help those living with a mental health issue. One helpful resource I have seen in action, is the Ottawa Police Service’s Mental Health Unit. It is comprised of four police constables who work with the Ottawa Hospital to respond to calls for crisis involving mental health. These calls can then be diverted from using other resources not suited to helping those experiencing a mental health problem.
The Smiths Falls Police Service should consider having their own Mental Health Unit. We have a Community Service Officer, why not also have an officer trained to handle someone experiencing a mental health crisis. These officers would know and understand the Mental Health Act, outside of just its scope on the policing mandate. There are forms family members can access through the courts to help a loved one seek medical treatment. There are other agencies and processes that some may not know about. A Mental Health Unit within our own police department could act as a liaison between families and these services. Mental health resources in Ontario are a labyrinth of services that families sometimes just need help to navigate through. A designated first-responder that can handle such a call, 24/7, could take a crisis bound for danger and turn it into an opportunity to connect people to the resources they really need.