The public gallery of the Nova Scotia Legislature was full as the Speaker opened the floor on Nov. 12 to an emergency debate about mental health in Nova Scotia.
Previous sittings have seen emergency debates about Muskrat Falls in 2012, and disaster relief for Cape Breton in 2000, but this was the first time the topic of mental health has been debated with urgency.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia put forward the motion, and House Leader, Honorable Michel P. Samson, accepted the motion for debate on behalf of the governing Liberal Party.
One attendee of the debate who was invested in the topic was Dexter Nyuurnibe. Nyuurnibe is with Jack.org, the non-profit organization that is a national network of youth leaders aiming to change the stigma around mental health.
“Yes, money has increased with regards to spending which is indicative of the times … but mental health is a changing field, it does not stay static,” Nyuurnibe said of what he thought was the main takeaway of the comments from the legislature.
Nyuurnibe himself has personal experiences with the healthcare system in Nova Scotia, stating that he has yet to have a positive experience.
In the past, Nyuurnibe says he went to a Nova Scotian hospital where doctors stated he was a risk to himself, and then left him alone for four hours.
Minister of Health Leo Glavine stated during question period, “We are indeed doing a great deal, but I can assure there is a lot more to do.”
The work the province is already doing is fulfilling the 33 recommendations given by healthcare professionals and several groups on providing care in the province. The government will follow these recommendations this over the course of five years.
Funding for mental health programs has increased to $270 million since the Liberals took power in 2013.
Premier McNeil also said “this is an issue that touches all of our families.”
McNeil said the government plans to ensure “that when families need services in dealing with mental health issues, they have it.”
Nyuurnibe says that some of the best ways to make this possible is by reaching out to those who are going through a transitional period in their life.
“We need to specifically help emerging adults … looking at the particular gap of transitioning. When people hit the age of 18 they might end up seeing a different psychologist or seeing a different hospital for help.”
The communities that youth grow up in can also have an impact on how likely they are to seek help when dealing with a mental health issue.
“We need to ask where do these youth come from, what households do they come from. There needs to be more of a focus on ensuring that people that come from particular backgrounds can reach out and find someone they can relate to on a [cultural, socio-economic, age-based] demographic, ” says Nyuurnibe.
In continuing helping those who come diverse communities, Nyuurnibe says, “we need more in regards to the LGBTQ+ community, they need more support because statistically they also face many mental health challenges.”
Peer support is an innovative way of reaching out to those affected by mental illness, and Nyuurnibe says it has proven to be a great point of support. He believes this is something the government should look into, and potentially invest in.
“Basically, there needs to be a complete reform. It’s just a fact. It’s not just the healthcare system itself; it’s how we respond to particular crises”.
While there is still stigma facing those dealing with mental illness, one of the ways Nyuurnibe is tackling this problem is with social media.
His latest campaign is #TheFactIs, which asks those affected by mental health issues to share why they think government and community support is needed.
Social media campaigns on creating awareness of mental illness have proven successful in the past. For younger generations, social media is often a form of communication where they are constantly connected.
“It’s just one of those things where using a particular platform where people can connect with one another and share their stories, it has a great impact to bring this conversation to light.”
Nyuurnibe will continue to work with stakeholders and members of government to advocate for those dealing with mental illness.