COLUMN: Squeaky wheels finally get the grease

COLUMN: Squeaky wheels finally get the grease

Opening of Foundry Abbotsford a triumph for activists, patients and parents – but more is needed

Three years ago, I wrote a series of stories about how difficult it was to get help for children with mental health issues. I was hardly the only one.

Over the last six or seven years, the world has woken up to the need to destigmatize mental health issues, with British Columbians on the leading edge.

Men, women and children speaking about their challenges, along with community activists ranging from enraged and motivated mothers to Vancouver Canucks players have helped push mental health issues into the forefront of public policy debates in this province.

And it is they, more than anyone else, who are to credit for the opening of Foundry Abbotsford, a space where youth aged 12 to 24 can go to find and receive help.

You take a quick tour of Foundry today and it seems innovative in that weird way that extremely obvious ideas that haven’t existed before sometimes appear.

For instance, it houses a program for teens with psychiatric difficulties who can’t go to school. That program used to be located in Abbotsford Regional Hospital, which seems just ridiculous.

And by providing services in one place, hopefully Foundry can become something like a walk-in clinic for mental health wellness, where a young person who has decided they need help, can go and get support without having to negotiate government bureaucracy and hospital hallways.

A lot of work has gone into this, since it was announced a little more than a year ago.

But let’s not kid ourselves about what made the difference. There is not a new mental health crisis. People today aren’t necessarily more fragile than those 50, 100 or 1,000 years ago. Previously, to everyone’s detriment, societies largely ignored, downplayed and mismanaged the treatment of mental illness,

A better understanding of mental illness has helped us realize that those with depression or anxiety can’t just fix themselves, and shouldn’t be castigated for not doing so.

But we’ve also come to that realization, in large part, because those with mental illness have stepped forward to share their stories and increase awareness of the breadth of the issue.

When it comes to children, parents have stepped forward and shouted about the failings of our governments and schools to help young people. Behind just about every news story, politician statement, closed-door meeting and official report, there have been parents and children yelling that something needs to change and that government needs to do better.

The Foundry that opened under the guidance of today’s NDP government was actually first announced by the BC Liberals prior to the last election. And while I have no specific reason to believe the timing of the announcement was anything but a coincidence, it’s also not unreasonable to think that the politicians who sign off on something like Foundry finally realized that the public was demanding action on the mental health file and that they had better step up to the plate.

The squeaky wheels are finally getting the grease.

Foundry appears great. I hope it works as it’s designed. The fact that it extends services to the age of 24 is of utmost importance.

But there will be just 11 such facilities in the province, when the government completes its phased roll-out. Smaller centres, with impoverished communities and negligible resources, will continue to struggle. The Foundry model, with its emphasis on shared spaces, appears to be well-suited for such towns.

More too needs to be done for children under the age of 12 who have mental illness. What makes Foundry particularly helpful is that it removes complexity, stress and other barriers that keep people from accessing help. Those barriers afflict people throughout the health care system, and particularly stressed-out parents with young kids.

There has been progress made, and the 11 Foundry locations provide a foundation, if you will. But a foundation is a beginning, not an end.


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Tyler Olsen is a reporter at the Abbotsford News.