March 12th, 2021

NDP proposes mental health emergency teams

HALIFAX - The NDP Caucus will introduce legislation today that would create a new form of first responders, accessible to the public through the 911 system, for mental health emergencies.

“Too many people are falling through the cracks when it comes to mental health, and our emergency response system is not properly equipped to deal with mental health crises,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill. “People deserve something better when it comes to mental health care.”

The Chief of Police in Truro, and the Deputy Chief in Bridgewater, highlighted last year that police are not trained to provide this kind of mental health assistance. The provincial government promised to review the situation, but there has been no update since.

“The majority of folks we support experience high barriers in their daily life related to their mental health. Interactions with police, especially during a mental health crisis frequently make the situation much worse. People often experience criminalization rather than the support they are seeking or need. This is especially true for folks from Black and Indigenous communities,” said Michelle Malette, Executive Director of the Out of the Cold Shelter in Halifax. “People experiencing crisis need empathetic, appropriate care from experienced mental health practitioners who are trained to provide that care. Ideally this care would be rooted in community. Police have demonstrated time and again that this can’t be their role. It is really that simple.”

Alberta already has a similar approach, which sees teams of mental health workers available through the 911 system. Nova Scotia also has the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team, which is available only in HRM.

“Marginalized communities, particularly people who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Colour, have spoken out about their unjust treatment in the justice system, including around issues like street checks and interactions with police,” said Susan Leblanc, NDP Health and Wellness spokesperson. “Police themselves have noted that they are not trained to handle mental health emergency calls. We can address these concerns and reduce police interaction with people experiencing mental health crises by expanding access to qualified mental health emergency teams.”

The NDP has previously introduced legislation to create a Mental Health Bill of Rights, and to increase funding for mental health to be able to provide for same-day/next-day mental health appointments.