Fixing the mental health system

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>Todd Leader, the former director of community health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, speaking to roughly 20 people about his book <em>It&#8217;s Not About Us</em> at Margaret Hennigar Public Library on May 2.</p>

Todd Leader, the former director of community health for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, is calling on politicians to help change the mental health system.

The key is getting more people talking and with an election in Nova Scotia, Leader has reached out to all three major parties through Twitter and Facebook to ask whether they will commit to his approach. He has yet to hear back.

Speaking at the Margaret Hennigar Public Library in Bridgewater on May 2 to promote his book It's Not About Us, Leader said the mandate of the mental health system is to serve the people, including those who are healthy, an approach he terms as client-centred.

Despite what people may say about adding more services, he called it a "worn out phrase." Instead, Leader believes in reducing wait times by reducing demand, not by increasing services, especially when "people are describing an experience that's just not positive."

He doesn't view it as a failure on the part of service providers, but rather in administration, and he acknowledged it will take time to change. "It's social change. It's going to take decades."

Until someone says "more is not the solution," Leader said all of the political statements will not get us to a client-centred system. "So I think it's time for our leaders to listen more."

Leader is an award-winning psychologist and social worker who has taught at the Faculty of Science at Saint Mary's University for 26 years. He served as past director of addiction services and the director of primary health care and chronic disease management for South Shore Health. Much of Leader's book is based on the lessons he learned on the South Shore.

Since launching his book last October, he has travelled to Halifax, Sydney, Stellarton and Antigonish, as well as St. John's, Newfoundland, and has an upcoming trip to Saint John, New Brunswick, and a few national conferences.

While the problems may vary from place-to-place, he said "the themes are still the same," most notably in wait times.

People are complaining about a lack of access to services, having to navigate through "too many hoops," all the while feeling disrespected or not heard, he said. "This has some really serious implications especially in mental health and addiction."

In thinking about a client-centred approach, Leader often asks the question if someone's mother or sister was the client, what would be a reasonable time for her to wait before getting help. "It's a conceptual shift that the system has not made."

He said further harm can be created when those suffering from anxiety or depression, who already believe they have no self-worth, are made to wait for the services they need.

And when programs have strict lines that either admit clients or not, a gap is created between mandates resulting in what people refer to as "falling through the cracks," he said.

It is about "intentionally over-stepping our mandate," said Leader, to "make sure there is never a space."

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