Before 1997, the needs of people with mental health challenges were not being met in a meaningful, supportive and successful way.
The QUESST Unit was only open 10 months of the year and once patients who were sent to Prince George for mental health issues were released, there wasn’t a comprehensive support system, in others words a discharge plan, to provide the services they required in their home community.
In 1997 the staff of the then crisis line saw a glaring need for support systems and services for these people.
The fragmented pieces of the clients’ team such as medical, professional, family support, law enforcement and victim services were drawn together in the Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC) and the process began to better serve people with mental health challenges.
Funding for services was provided by Ministry of Health which has since been transferred to Northern Health.
Bonnie Foisy, the longest serving member of the MHAC said they made a list of priorities.
“The first priority was to have the QUESST unit funded full-time,” she said.
“It was also imperative the unit function under the hospital model ensuring physical and mental needs were met as well as creating discharge plans for clients.”
She went on to say developing peer groups from across the community where clients could share and support each other was important.
“We also envisioned educational programs for clients and for the community at large.”
The Grace Young Centre was started in 1985 as a place where people with mental health challenges could spend time in a non-judgemental and safe environment. This facility became part of the solution for support to these clients.
The MHAC and the community can now take credit for a wide array of services available to people with mental health challenges and Foisy said Quesnel services are head and shoulders about some other communities.
“It’s a compliment to all the community groups who sit around the Mental Health Advisory Committee table,” committee member Jean Edwards said.
Both women recognize there’s still much to be done and moving forward they see several goals yet to be attained.
“Affordable housing for our clients is critical,” Edwards said.
“And at the same time dispelling the stigma of mental illness is also very important.”
Having a full-time mental health psychiatrist is high on the wish list as is better transportation around the community.
“Often services and events are outside of the bus schedule,” Foisy said.
How common is mental illness? Edwards stated that one in five people will have a diagnosed, serious mental health issue in their lifetime.
“People with a serious mental health issue can still be a fully functioning person and its important people recognize the need to treat everyone with dignity and respect,” Foisy added.
“The committee wants to reach out to the wider community because people with mental health challenges are part of the community – we want to break down the barriers.”
MHAC is always looking for new members; anyone interested in this rewarding volunteer work can come to the AGM, June 18, 1:30 – 3
p.m. in the upper board room at the hospital.