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N.S., federal government join forces to increase mental health supports in areas affected by 2020 mass shooting


The Nova Scotia and federal governments say they are spending $18 million dollars to address immediate mental health and grief support needs for Nova Scotia communities affected by the 2020 mass shooting.

The money includes funding to send new mental health outreach staff to Truro, N.S., on Monday, and a mobile team in rural areas starting Saturday, May 6.

The announcement was made Friday afternoon by Nova Scotia’s Minister in charge of the Office of Addictions and Mental Health, Brian Comer, along with the federal Minister of Mental Health, Carolyn Bennett, who joined by video conference.

Officials say the province and Ottawa are each contributing $9 million over two years.

The PC MLA for Colchester North, which includes communities affected by the tragedy says he’s hopeful the plan will make a difference.

“I know lots of folks that are struggling right now, probably more than they ever were,” says Tom Taggart. “If we can do this right, and it's no small, chore, we can get them because it is hard to get people to come out and say 'hey, I need help'.”

Creating a plan to address the unmet mental health needs of residents affected by the tragedy was a recommendation of the Mass Casualty Commission, which called on the province to do so by May 1.

In its final report, the commission highlighted the Nova Scotia government’s failure to meet the mental health needs of families, survivors and residents, both immediately after the tragedy and during the three years since.

The provincial and federal governments' response: a combined $18 million spent over two years -- to try to make it right.

“In the days and weeks and months after the tragedy happened, there was certainly a lot of work on the ground that occurred,” said Brian Comer, Minister in charge of the Office of Mental Health and Addictions. “But I think we heard very clearly from the report that that wasn't enough.”

The federal minister of mental health and addictions, Carolyn Bennett, joined in the announcement by videoconference.

“The journey ahead will not be without its challenges,” she said. “But it will emphasize the importance of communities, equity and social determinants of mental health.”

The province says starting Monday, one new mental health outreach worker will go on the job in Truro, N.S., to provide mental wellness supports, and connect those in need with other resources such as clinical care.

Next week, workers with a mobile mental health unit will travel to affected communities on Saturdays in May, starting on May 6 at the Bass River Fire Hall.

The province says there will be more services to come, but only after it consults with communities first, to find out exactly what they need in the short-term, and down the road.

“I think in rural parts of the province and rural parts of the country I think access to care is a significant issue,” said Comer. “I think having the mobile options for a variety of ways to get that care is important for sure.”

“I think it’s also important that we engage with our community partners to ensure that we are offering care a variety of ways,” he added.

“It is unfortunate that it took this long,” says Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers.

Comer says the province is actively recruiting more mental health staff but couldn't say how many would be needed, or when they'll start.

Stratford is concerned about finding enough new staff, and about the potential burnout being felt by workers who have been providing mental health services in affected areas since April 2020.

He believes the wait for mental health care has exacerbated the need.

“People in the community are telling us that, our clinicians are telling us that,” he says. “It is good that governments are taking the recommendations from the MCC seriously, there are many in there that need to be met, and we are going to need to see many more resources if we are to achieve what I think every Nova Scotian is looking for, if not every Canadian, which is to feel safe, secure, welcomed, and loved in their community.”

“As the MCC pointed out,” Stratford adds, “we’re far away from that in this moment in time.” Top Stories

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