The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) North and West Vancouver recently kicked off its Mental Health Week with the launch of #TogetherNorthShore, a campaign that celebrates community in supporting mental health, substance use, abuse and family conflict.
#TogetherNorthShore is about celebrating our community and its diversity. We are asking people to post photos holding hands with those who have supported them in their mental health or life journey over the past couple of years.
This week we are also raising awareness of our Peer Assisted Care Team (PACT), BC’s first civilian-led crisis team. It’s particularly timely following the release of a report last week from an all-party legislative committee, calling for transformational reform to policing and community safety in BC. The recommendations include fundamentally changing responses to mental health distress and prioritizing a community health response.
PACT was launched on the North Shore in November 2021. It’s still in its pilot phase but it is showing significant promise. It offers the community a culturally safe response to mental health and substance use crises. Community members call or text a unique phone line, and are helped by phone or in person. The teams that are dispatched always include a mental health professional and a trained peer support worker. Together they offer help and hope in English and in Farsi.
The team has responded to 270 calls since its launch, and has never needed to call police due to a safety risk. This reinforces what we know – that people with mental health and/or substance use issues are not dangerous, and that people want choice when they are experiencing distress.
What makes this program special and something to be proud of is that it came together through community dialogue. We invited different representatives from our First Nations partners, our non-profit partners, police, municipalities and people with lived or living experience. Together we came up with a solution for the community and importantly, by the community.
We also learned about the many reasons people may not want to access existing emergency services, including previous criminal involvement, lack of trust in police or emergency services, and precarious immigration status. We made space to hear from our First Nations, racialized and LGBTQ2s+ communities, and our youth who felt unseen, unsupported, and often mistreated by current systems of response.
In February, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions announced 1.26 million in funding for the existing North Shore PACT, and to support the launch of PACT in New Westminster and Victoria. With this new funding, our PACT will expand to additional days of the week, expand its multilingual services, and we will move forward with our evaluation.
#TogetherNorthShore is the continuation of a new community conversation and a celebration of our diversity. I hope PACT will be the turning point in providing help for everyone experiencing distress and hope for a new way forward. Sometimes our darkest days are just a moment in the bigger picture of our lives.
Julia Kaisla is the Executive Director of CMHA North and West Vancouver Branch.