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B.C. urged to do more to nip mental illness, addiction in the bud

The Canadian Mental Health Association B.C. is calling for the public to endorse its new ‘B4stage4’ manifesto.

M.J. Ziemann, 25, speaks at the launch of the Canadian Mental Health Association B.C.’s “B4stage4” campaign on Tuesday.

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M.J. Ziemann, 25, speaks at the launch of the Canadian Mental Health Association B.C.’s “B4stage4” campaign on Tuesday.

It wasn’t until Simon Fraser University psychology graduate M.J. Ziemann sought help for her own eating disorder that she realized how much was awry in B.C.’s mental health care system.

Seeking professional care can be daunting enough for anyone, but as her mental health crisis escalated, she grew increasingly discouraged.

“I had actually applied for help,” the 25-year-old told Metro in an interview Tuesday, “but I was rejected without any explanation as to why … It wasn't until I was very, very, very ill and needed to be hospitalized that the wheels got turning.”

But once the health care wheels starting rolling, she said, she discovered “a deep feeling of care, understanding and good treatment” to finally get the help she’d needed.

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For Ziemann and several health professionals who spoke Tuesday at the B.C. offices of the Canadian Mental Health Association, no one should have to wait until they’re in full-blown crisis before getting essential health care.

The event marked the launch of CMHA’s new campaign, “B4stage4,” which the charity described as a “manifesto” for improving the province’s mental illness and addictions care system — focused on five “pillars” of prevention and early intervention, more accessible addictions treatment, better crisis care, and greater provincial leadership through a dedicated “Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.”

For CMHA B.C.’s CEO Bev Gutray, the province’s ongoing spending on mental health doesn’t go far enough to leverage results, and she argued the province doesn’t treat mental illness with “the same priority as all other matters of public policy.”

“In both children and youth and adult services, the need does not match up to the services that are offered,” Gutray said. “We leave children, youth and families to languish.

“We would not tolerate this for any other childhood disorder, and we must not accept it for mental health and substance use care.”

She added that the status quo is “completely unacceptable,” particularly since mental health professionals have developed “proven interventions that work.”

Also endorsing the campaign was Dr. Ronald Remick, medical director of the psychiatric clinic at the Mood Disorder Association of B.C. He said that with recent focus on deadly fentanyl overdoses and police deaths and injuries of people with mental illness, it’s time as well to tackle such problems before getting to that crisis stage.

“I don't want to minimize how significant or serious those problems are,” he told reporters. “(But) that's one per cent of people with mental health issues. The 98 or 99 per cent of people are the ones who don't have access.

“Not only is this unacceptable, but the treatment that's there for mood (and) for anxiety disorders, 50 per cent can expect full recovery, another 35 per cent can expect very, very significant improvement. We can help these people. Yet they sit there and they wait and don't have access.”

Ziemann said she’d been interested in psychology since high school, but her own mental health struggle gave her a “perspective of compassion and empathy” for others — and she decided to study psychology. She hopes to return for a Masters degree in either clinical counselling or policy.

Asked if she had advice for others struggling with mental illness, she replied, “Persistence is key.”

“Being your own advocate is a really important thing,” she said, “not succumbing to the illness without pushing forward.

“That's the current system and it’s the only way you're going to get some help.”

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