Mental Health: Question Period – 28 April 2017

Here is the video and transcript of oral questions today recorded in the language it was originally spoken.

Mr. Coon: Yesterday, the government published the first pillar of its Family Plan, focusing on
improving access to primary and acute care. Presumably, we will soon hear how government
intends to improve access to mental health care. Earlier this month, when the Conference Board
of Canada tabled its report ranking New Brunswick as the best in the country for quality of life,
it highlighted the fact that we have the highest rate of suicide in the country, at nearly 14 suicides
per 100 000 residents. This is really unsettling and disconcerting. With the waiting list for people
struggling with mental illness, it can be as long as a year before they get access to counseling.
What does the Minister of Health plan to do to eliminate these indefensible wait times for people
who are struggling with mental health problems?

Hon. Mr. Boudreau: I want to thank the member opposite for the question. The member
opposite is correct. Yesterday, we responded to the first pillar of our New Brunswick Family
Plan. We are very proud to start unrolling the vision that we have in regard to all services related
to families in the province, seeing that that is a priority for this government.
In regard to mental health, we have been making significant investments over the last three
years. We are going to continue to do so. We are actually following the Action Plan for Mental
Health that was put in place by the former government. We have continued it since coming to
office. I am very proud to say that approximately 9% of our health care budget goes to mental
health initiatives.

There are still challenges, and there are still needs that need to be addressed. We are going to
continue to do that. We have some very successful pilot projects that are in the process of being
rolled out across the province. We will see positive results.

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister.

Mr. Coon: The action plan of the former government, which this government is pursuing, is
clearly not working when we have extremely long waiting times for mental health services, for
counseling, or for access to psychiatrists. It is unacceptable. In fact, the rate of suicide is
increasing in New Brunswick, which is unacceptable. It is increasing beyond the Conference
Board of Canada’s numbers for 2010 to 2012 of 14 people per 100 000 who committed suicide.
The most recent report from the province’s Chief Coroner is for 2014. It is reporting 16 suicide
deaths per 100 000 residents. Gregory Zed, the province’s only forensic suicide expert, has now
put that number at 17 for the year 2016. It is alarming that, when we already have the highest
rate of suicide in the country, that rate is increasing. Today, patients are waiting months to see a
psychiatrist. Will the minister commit to hiring more psychiatrists to eliminate the waiting list
for psychiatric care?

Hon. Mr. Boudreau: Again, I want to highlight the fact that we are making record investments
when it comes to mental health. We will be hiring more health care professionals to deal with
some of the challenges we are facing with regard to mental health. We are making other
investments, such as the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre. The member was
there for the opening a few weeks ago, and he was very happy to see this community health
centre open, to deal with the most vulnerable in our society, some people who may not have
access to a family physician.

We are continuing with many initiatives, whether it be our Integrated Service Delivery model in
our schools, our FACT teams working with adults, or our mobile crisis units that go out. All
these initiatives started in pilot project form, and we are now in the process of actually investing
more money so that these successful pilot projects can be rolled out across the province. By the
end of this year, we will have all these initiatives right across the province, and, hopefully, we
will be able to address some of those wait times.

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister.

Mr. Coon: Physical health is still getting the lion’s share of the attention. Gregory Zed, the
suicide expert, provided some context for the numbers that I have been speaking about. Between
2011 and 2015, more than 70% of New Brunswickers who ended their lives in suicide had
visited their family doctor to talk about their mental health within three months of their death.
What this means is that there is an opportunity to intervene in 70% of the cases. The question is
whether the minister will seize this opportunity to intervene at the level of the primary health
care providers to help save lives in New Brunswick.

L’hon. M. Boudreau : Je suis d’accord avec le député de Fredericton-Sud pour dire qu’il faut
faire plus pour éviter les suicides; personne ne va argumenter contre cela.

Ce que je suis en train de vous dire, c’est que, au cours des trois dernières années, nous avons
investi davantage d’argent dans notre budget afin de traiter de cette question. Par exemple, notre
programme de services intégrés pour les jeunes dans nos écoles a commencé sous forme de deux
projets pilotes : Un se situe dans la Péninsule acadienne et l’autre dans la région de Charlotte.
Depuis la mise en place de ces deux projets pilotes, les temps d’attente pour avoir accès aux
services ont été réduits à zéro. Alors, si des jeunes ont besoin de services, ils les reçoivent.
Maintenant, nous prenons cette même initiative et nous la mettons en place dans toute la
province. Nous allons embaucher des professionnels additionnels; nous allons offrir des services
additionnels et nous allons aborder la question des listes d’attente.

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister. The time for question period has expired.