Mental illness a broad spectrum

The shift to small community-based facilities for the care and housing of those suffering from mental illness has had some great successes.

Editor, The News:

Re: Warehousing mentally ill is cruel (Sidewinder, Sept. 6).

Thanks go to Mr. Macdougall for discussing Riverview.

While I find the use of terminology like “Draconian” and “reopening the Black Hole of Calcutta” more than a little inappropriate, he makes many good points concerning the history of mental health treatment, and how we have gotten to where we are presently.

Unfortunately, his article completely fails to understand what is presently being discussed, and proposed, with the upcoming resolution at the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

The shift to small community-based facilities for the care and housing of those suffering from mental illness has had some great successes. There is no question that it has improved the lives of many, and that it should be expanded and continued.

It is also true that there has been a “failure of successive provincial governments to live up to its funding promises that has allowed thousands … to fall through the cracks … ”

Mental illness, like physical illness, covers a broad spectrum. Some levels of illness, whether mental or physical, can be optimally managed in a community setting, some require hospitalization and specialized treatment.

Statistics show that, in B.C., we are short by more than 500 psychiatric hospital beds. This number is derived both by the numbers recommended by the Canadian Psychiatric Association and as compared to the national average.

We also have fewer psychiatrists per capita, with the longest wait times for urgent consultation, than in any other province. At the same time we spend more per capita in B.C. on mental health than in any other province.

The Riverview grounds offer a beautiful setting for a first class centre of excellence for mental health care.

The grounds have heritage status for the magnificent flora and arbors.

The community of Coquitlam is willing to embrace their use for mental health care.

Much of the infrastructure is already in place, including three lovely lodges that were built there in the last decade. Most of the old buildings are beyond repair and construction of new facilities would  be required.

Many people who suffer from more severe mental illness, given proper treatment at a facility, such as is being proposed, could the transition back to community living. A small subset require ongoing, or permanent, high-level treatment, care and housing.

No one is calling for a return to the ‘old days.’

The upcoming resolution:

“Therefore be it resolved that the provincial government immediately begin to undertake all necessary action to reinstate Riverview as a modern Centre of Excellence for mental health care and support.”

This is a very complex and emotional subject and I appreciate the opportunity to discuss it. We must learn from the past, recent and not so recent, and continue to evolve and improve our care for those who suffer from mental illness.

Please note, this letter reflects my personal views, and while council supports the resolution this letter is not an official response from mayor and council.

Bob Masse

Maple Ridge


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