Surrey candidates disagree about mental health facility

SURREY – While Surrey First’s crime platform calls for an institution for the mentally ill, some have come out against the idea.


Surrey First’s platform includes a promise the team will request the province build a "secure mental health facility" which would "ensure that individuals with mental health and addictions issues are not put in the community without support, nor require police officers to remain at hospital as


security." Brenda Locke and Stephen Gammer, under the TeamSurrey banner, called the creation of an institution for mentally ill individuals a "backward and ill-conceived proposition" in a press release.


Locke, former Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services and former Liberal MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers from 2001 to 2005, says institutionalizing mentally ill people does not work.


"It did not work at Riverview and it will not work in Surrey," she said.


"Mentally ill people need real healthcare alternatives to being locked-up or left untreated. The stigma around mental illness is perhaps one of the most oppressive parts of the disease, and forced institutionalization will only heighten that stigma and cause mentally ill people to fear seeking help," Locke said, adding she’d prefer to see integration for the mentally ill in the communities they call home.


TeamSurrey is calling for the development of treatment plans and supports using the latest intelligence available.


Independent mayoral candidate John Edwards was a nurse at Riverview during the time the facility was being downsized.


"That was when the population was about 2,500 people. I worked there for four years, so I know what institutional care is like," he said.


Edwards said creating a mental health institution would be a step backward.


"I do believe that the concept… of good rehabilitation and reintegration of people with mental illness into the community is the only way to go. I’m saying that because many of the people who have mental illness can, in fact, go on to have regular lives," he said.


Drawing from his experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Edwards said there are new drugs to treat such disorders.


"With the better drugs we have, we know we can treat many of the symptoms," he said. "And quite successfully."


Edwards suggested creating an institution like Riverview in Surrey, or anywhere else, would be a misstep, adding he is "very much opposed to institutional care."


"I think what we need is a centre of excellence for research and treatment and management," he said. "And we also need a place where the general community can get education around mental illness, because society still has a very negative attitude toward those with mental illness."


He noted that in any given year, one in five Canadians will experience some kind of mental health issue, according to statistics provided by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.


Asked for her response to those statements, Hepner said TeamSurrey has misinterpreted her plan as a "housing asylum."


"[This facility] allows better assessment of need and then need placement so that they’re not going into the hospital, getting medicated and getting thrown back out onto the street without full assessment opportunities."


Hepner said all the mayors in the region are asking for such a facility because mental health funding hasn’t kept pace with regional population growth.


She emphasized the importance of freeing up police resources, as officers can be required to stay at hospitals for hours in cases involving mental illness.


"They’d have a drop-off place where those who are dedicated to mental health issues are available immediately to do the care, assessment and follow-up," she said.


Hepner said the length of stay could vary widely. "If you need to be there for 90 days, it’s a place for you to be. If you need to be there for six months, it’s a place for you to be."

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