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Mental health worker decries government cut

Funding to initiative designed to improve services to children and youth will end in December
MEETING OF MINDS Members of Pemberton's 18-strong Local Action Team want to improve mental health services for young people. Photo courtesy of Nancy Lee

A Pemberton mental health worker is speaking out against the provincial government's decision to stop funding an initiative aimed at improving mental health services for children and youth.

"What's at stake is comprehensive mental health services for youth and their families, " said Tanya Richman, a child and youth therapist who works at Mount Currie's Xet'olacw Community School.

The initiative — known as the Child Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative — began in 2013 with the goal of improving communication among stakeholders and developing innovative programming.

The collaborative is funded by the province and Doctors of BC, with funding set to end by the end of December. It oversees 64 Local Action Teams (LATs) around the province, many in rural communities, that meet regularly.

Richman is the co-chair of the Pemberton LAT. It has improved communication and developed effective programming, she said.

"When you're working with youth, you have to make sure they have supports from all different angles," she explained. "We've been lobbying (the government) to try to keep it going."

Each group is managed by a team leader responsible for organizing meetings and turning the ideas that come out of them into initiatives. Because all 64 teams have the same source of funding, teams are able to share the resources they develop.

An application developed by North Vancouver's LAT served as the basis for Plan-Y, an application and website that serves as a resource hub for Pemberton-area youth.

The app links to numerous mental health resources and a crisis line, which Richman said is well used by local youth.

Nancy Lee, who has served as the team leader for the Pemberton LAT, said that it has improved communication among workers.

"This collaborative has allowed people to come and meet monthly and work on initiatives together," said Lee adding that the team will continue to meet despite the loss of funding.

The Pemberton LAT only really got moving last year, and it's in the process of developing valuable initiatives, including a family-focused information consent form that will be used to connect patients with service providers, said Lee.

"We don't want momentum to stall," said Lee, who is hopeful that the government will fund other relevant programs if funding is cut to the collaborative.

Whistler has a joint LAT with Squamish. Team leader Alex Anderson highlighted a "patient-journey mapping project" as an important accomplishment.

Facilitators held focus groups and conducted interviews in order to chart people's experience with mental-health resources. Then they worked with a graphic designer "to create a powerful visual for what that patient journey map looks like for people." The image underscores the challenges people face when accessing tools to improve their health.

"It was really an opportunity for us to hear and acknowledge and respect the stories of the people who are in this system, and then to try to display, for everyone, how challenging it can be. It's a powerful tool for explaining what it's like to travel through these services," said Anderson.

She also highlighted significant collaborations with First Nations as an important outcome of the program.

In an emailed statement to Pique, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, which is being looked to for funding, said the collaborative was "a time-sensitive initiative" and that the ministry is "working across government on a comprehensive strategy to improve mental health and substance use services."

The spokesman, however, also acknowledge the success of the program. "The work of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative has been very successful in developing and sharing new strategies to support children, youth and families struggling with mental illness or addiction."