N.S. couple calling for immediate changes to province’s mental health care system

N.S. couple calling for immediate changes to province’s mental health care system

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A Halifax couple is speaking out their struggles to get access to help through the province’s mental health system.

Jennifer MacDonald says she’s struggled with depression all her life. But she says things have been spiraling for nearly a year.

“I started abusing my medication, particularly my anxiety medication, because that’s all that seemed to help,” MacDonald says. 

After two emergency room visits, she finally got an urgent appointment to see a psychiatrist. It was scheduled for November, two months after the hospital visit.

Macdonald’s partner, Andrew Boyd, says the system isn’t easy to navigate.

“There certainly needs to be resources that are communicating effectively so that these patients are informed,” he says.

The experience has left them both frustrated.

“I don’t know system-wide what has to happen, if it’s more resources, more training. I just know that there’s all of this talk about mental health, like let’s talk about I, but what are we doing?” says MacDonald.

It’s a question Nova Scotia’s auditor general is asking too. In a report released Wednesday, Michael Pickup says “there are no plans for how and where mental health services are delivered” across the province.

Wait times for mental health care in Nova Scotia range from 56 days to 425 days, according to provincial wait lists. That’s despite standards that say urgent cases should be seen within seven days. Pickup says that’s not being tracked at all.

Health Minister Randy Delorey says changes are coming in 2018, with 70 additional clinicians to be hired as part of budget commitments.

For many patients, change can’t come soon enough.

“I’ve watched Jennifer for the past year try to access this help and to this date we still haven’t gotten her the appropriate help,” says Boyd.

“The system itself definitely has blood on its hands, leaving people to struggle this way,” says MacDonald.

Linda Courey, Nova Scotia Health Autority’s senior director, says there is a need to provide better, urgent care to cut down on the time between that first emergency room visit and the next follow up appointment. She says some have an excessively long wait.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Sarah Ritchie.

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