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UPDATE: Struggling to get help: Islanders share stories of barriers to care for mental health, addictions

Ellen Taylor, speaks at a forum on mental health and addictions at The Guild on Tuesday. The forum drew together service providers and several individuals who have lived experience navigating the sometimes disjointed supports within the health system for mental health and addictions. - Stu Neatby
Ellen Taylor, speaks at a forum on mental health and addictions at The Guild on Tuesday. The forum drew together service providers and several individuals who have lived experience navigating the sometimes disjointed supports within the health system for mental health and addictions. - Stu Neatby

Warning - Some of the content in this story may disturb readers.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - At The Guild on Tuesday night, in a packed, dark theatre, audible sobs could be heard from the audience.

Courtney Crosby sat in front of a projected photo of her mother, Anne. Speaking as part of a "call to action" forum on mental health and addictions, Crosby described how her mother had struggled with an addiction to painkiller medication, severe post-traumatic stress disorder and bi-polar disorder.

All of this was made worse by a wall of wait lists for treatment and what Anne viewed as a judgemental healthcare system, Crosby said.

She died of an overdose in 2017, about a year after being denied an out-of-province treatment recommended by her doctor.

Although other panelists at the event spoke of their successful experiences of recovery, Crosby’s frustrations with P.E.I.’s health system were shared by many.

"I find true pleasure of reading these beautiful success stories in the newspaper. But it hurts me every single day that my mom only made the obituaries," Crosby said.

"My mom might not have been a teacher or a doctor, but let me tell you she had a huge heart. She would have helped so many people if she had the chance ... Addiction robbed her of her life. But our government robbed her of a chance of recovery."

Crosby said her mother sought help for both her addiction and mental health issues. At one point, while her mother was serving a sentence at the Provincial Correctional Facility, Crosby scrambled to try and set up a detailed transition plan to a detox program for her mother upon her release. In the end, Anne finished her sentence without a plan in place. After her release, she immediately began to spiral back into addiction.

Courtney Crosby describes the tragic story of her attempts to obtain out-of-province treatment for her mother's mental health and addictions conditions. Her mother died of an overdose about a year after being denied access to out-of-province care. - Stu Neatby
Courtney Crosby describes the tragic story of her attempts to obtain out-of-province treatment for her mother's mental health and addictions conditions. Her mother died of an overdose about a year after being denied access to out-of-province care. - Stu Neatby

Crosby’s story was the most tragic of several stories shared during Tuesday’s forum. Brandon Bowers, currently the chef at Gahan House, told about his own story of successfully navigating recovery after dealing with an alcohol addiction.  

Melissa LeBlanc spoke about her successful recovery after accessing the Mount Herbert facility. 

But both Bowers and LeBlanc also told other stories, about the difficulty they experienced in getting help. 

LeBlanc herself endured a 10-day wait to access treatment at Mount Herbert, which she said was too long. But she said she was fortunate that she did not have accompanying mental health issues as well as addiction.

LeBlanc said her “significant other” has dealt with both addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

"The government of P.E.I. has allowed him to continually fall through the cracks," LeBlanc said. 

LeBlanc said her partner has received treatment at the Ledgehill Treatment and Recovery Centre in Nova Scotia. Health staff have recommended he have access to a trauma therapist in Charlottetown.

But LeBlanc feels that a care path has not been put in place since her partner’s return to P.E.I.

"What we truly need, in my opinion, is the staff and the accommodations that are required for each specific individual," LeBlanc said.

Panelists at a mental health and addictions form listen as moderator Ellen Taylor speaks. From left, school mental health clinician Katrina Anderson, Tammy MacKinnon of the Upper Room Hospitality Ministry, Brandom Bowers, a chef who has succeeded in beating addiction and Lisa Thibault, an administrator with Addictions East. - Stu Neatby
Panelists at a mental health and addictions form listen as moderator Ellen Taylor speaks. From left, school mental health clinician Katrina Anderson, Tammy MacKinnon of the Upper Room Hospitality Ministry, Brandon Bowers, a chef who has succeeded in beating addiction and Lisa Thibault, an administrator with Addictions East. - Stu Neatby

Two representatives from the Province also addressed the audience, speaking of the services that do exist in P.E.I. in the areas of addiction and mental health. Katrina Anderson, a school mental health clinician, talked about the teams of mental health professionals that have been set up in schools across P.E.I. Lisa Thibault of Addictions East, talked about the transition houses that exist on P.E.I., such as Lacey House. 

Health Minister James Aylward also spoke, making the case that the planned reconstruction of the Hillsborough Hospital would offer a significant improvement in mental health services in P.E.I.

"We're going to have a state of the art, stand-alone emergency department at the new Hillsborough Hospital. It's going to be exclusively for mental health and addictions," Aylward said.

The Hillsborough Hospital is slated to open in 2024-2025.

Twitter.com/stu_neatby


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