07/25/2017 13:16 EDT | Updated 07/25/2017 13:17 EDT

New Mental-Health Ministry Is Nothing Short Of A Miracle For B.C.

B.C. has charted a path that other Canadian provinces and the federal government should follow.

NDP Leader John Horgan speaks to supporters after an announcement about mental health and addiction services during a campaign stop at the Riverview Lands, the former site of a mental-health facility, in Coquitlam, B.C., on April 17, 2017.

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.

Khalil Gibran

Writing about mental health challenges, especially my own, has never been difficult for me. Chalk this up to privilege and a solid support network — that and a healthy dose of counselling and anti-anxiety medication. That doesn't mean that suffering doesn't still creep into my life day to day. A panic attack can be lurking right around the corner at any time, like the most unwelcome of guests at a dinner party.

Still, I've been lucky, and that fact is not lost on me. All I need to do is take a drive down Pandora Street in the garden city (Victoria) to see my brothers and sisters in struggle against the demons of mental illness to know that others have not been as fortunate as me. It's sobering to realize that I could have easily gone down a different path without the love and support of my family, friends and mental-health professionals.

A Google search for "B.C." and "mental health" pulls up any number of articles and stats shared by the Center for Addictions and Mental Health, Canadian Mental Health Association, and myriad column inches devoted to stories about overdose deaths. Not seen frequently enough are success stories about surviving and thriving while living with mental-health issues (although winning can often be situational, and two steps up a ladder can often be followed by five or six steps down).

NDP Leader John Horgan stands with mental-health advocates after an election campaign announcement about mental health and addiction services at the Riverview Lands, the former site of a mental health facility, in Coquitlam, B.C., on April 17, 2017.

This is the backdrop upon which I view Canada's first foray into a ministry of mental health (save for nine short months in B.C. in 2004), just created by the government of B.C. NDP Leader and Premier John Horgan. This is nothing short of a miracle for mental health activists: a standalone ministry to deal with the issues of mental illness and addictions that have beset B.C.

This specific focus on care when people need it, where they need, is critical.

The B.C. NDP 2017 platform commitment is as follows:

"We will address the fragmented mental health care system. We will create a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to prioritize those patients, and ensure treatment is available, coordinated and effective for everyone who needs it."

This specific focus on care when people need it, where they need, is critical. In practical terms, this means access to family doctors and nurse practitioners, safe consumption sites, local outreach workers to assist those who overdose, and a full supply and education of use in overdose prevention kits in every community, including First Nations communities (often ignored when we talk about mental health).

Judy Darcy, who is the minister responsible for this new ministry, has much to consider as well, especially bringing in those who have been fighting mental illness on the ground floor in communities across the province. What is heartening about naming Ms. Darcy to this portfolio is that as the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and a business manager with the Health Employees Union (HEU), she has front line experience in what social service workers deal with. She is experienced, professional and passionate about providing exceptional government services to those in need, and will excel as the minister of mental health and additions.

The Globe and Mail
Judy Darcy (centre focus), B.C.'s new minister of mental health and addictions, pictured on April 29, 2002.

That being said, Ms. Darcy has much to consider. She needs to make the focus of her work on ensuring that the government is dealing effectively with the social determinants of health. This means examining the factors that determine people's health both inside and outside of the main health-care system, and at every stage of life; children, youth, teenagers, adults and seniors. This means ensuring that we aren't just dealing with issues as they arise, but working to fundamentally change our health-care system into one that focuses on prevention of addiction where possible and early intervention when people start down a painful path.

B.C. has charted a path that other Canadian provinces and the federal government should follow.

The NDP commitment to create a standalone ministry has not gone without its criticism. Dr. Perry Kendal, B.C.'s provincial health officer, has warned that it could create too much bureaucracy. I couldn't disagree more. What the creation of this ministry will do is focus governments to address the gaps created within the health-care system, and at a time when the crisis of mental health and addictions is at its zenith.

In creating a ministry of mental health, B.C. has charted a path that other Canadian provinces and the federal government should follow. Mental-health policy needs to be an integrated approach, and if ever cross-jurisdictional cooperation were needed on a single issue, this one was it. All our efforts need to be brought to bear so that we can start saving lives and ensuring that those suffering every day with mental health and addictions issues no longer feel that they are alone, but that their community and their government supports them.

Those of us fighting for greater awareness of mental-health issues can see this as a victory, too. Finally, a government is putting mental health and wellness out in front.

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