Arvind Jagessar said he's experienced the “inefficiencies” of the current mental health crisis model in Sudbury.
The 36-year-old Cambrian College student suffers from acute and chronic depression, what he calls the “double devil.” His acute depression means he is prone to repeated and “major” episodes, while his chronic depression means that it is always a constant in his life.
“Dealing with life in general becomes very difficult,” Jagessar said. “I have trouble talking to people and performing day-to-day tasks. I tend to isolate myself. I stop coming out, I stop doing groceries, and all the things you need to do to participate in life. I struggle just to take care of myself.
“It's erratic, it's difficult to predict, and it's hard to deal with,” he said. “I've been having a harder time of it recently. I could spend half a year or even a year in serious trouble, but then go through a period of relatively normal functioning – it goes back and forth.”
In dealing with his mental illness, Jagessar is a consumer at the Sudbury Mental Health and Addictions Centre. The “inefficiencies” he's is talking about revolves around the mobile crisis unit.
Recently, when seeing a counsellor at the centre, he suffered “an episode.” The counsellor was forced to call an ambulance, he said, and he was sent to the emergency department, where he was then turned over to the crisis unit, which in turn worked to determine where he should go. He was then sent to the emergency nurses.
“There was just a lot of administration, and it didn't strike me as very efficient — it took a lot of time. I guess my biggest issue with the mental health system is that the departments don't communicate well with one another.”
If the mobile crisis unit was located at 127 Cedar St., where the Sudbury Mental Health and Addictions Centre is and where there is already a lot of mental health services available, “it will have better visibility, there will be better communication, and it will become a much more efficient system all around.”
Jagessar made those comments following the unveiling of Sudbury's new mental health crisis model, which brings to the same table the North East Local Health Integration Network, Health Sciences North (HSN), Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and Greater Sudbury Police Service.
The new model is designed to do exactly what Jagessar is looking for – bring mental health services to the right people in the right place at the right time.
Opening its doors on Oct. 1, the new community crisis model offers longer hours of operation and an enhanced mobile unit that will travel to people’s homes seven days a week. A 24-hour helpline will also be set up at 705-675-4760.
“This new crisis model is centred on the consumer,” said NE LHIN CEO Louise Paquette. “Our goal as a LHIN is to make mental health services more accessible — that means putting services in the community and lengthening the hours to ensure help is available.”
When it comes to mental health, we're essentially trained to put a Band-aid on it, but the wounds are much, much deeper, and we need to get them to people who can actually help them.
Chief of Police
“If you’re having a crisis, where would you rather be? Waiting in an emergency department surrounded by very physically ill people, or at 127 Cedar St., where you will be seen quickly by a crisis worker trained in mental health and addictions?”
People in times of distress need quick access to services in a calm environment by health-care professionals who understand their needs, said Dr. Rayudu Koka, medical director of the Mental Health and Addictions Program at Health Sciences North.
“Cedar Street and the mobile crisis unit are exactly what we need in Sudbury — more services in the community and closer to the people who need them. This is truly a people-focused community initiative.”
A major benefit of the new model will free up police officers who currently are required to spend anywhere from three to six hours at the hospital with a mental health patient, said Greater Sudbury Police Chief Frank Elsner.
“There was one night when we had 18 police officers tied up with mental health patients at the hospital,” he said. “From a public safety perspective, obviously that impacts our ability to respond to criminal calls for service.”
Mental health takes up the bulk of non-criminal calls to Greater Sudbury Police Service.
“The big picture here, is this is a far better way to address mental health,” he said. “These people will now go through the appropriate channels, and they will be looked after by people who are trained to deal with them. We're not. When it comes to mental health, we're essentially trained to put a Band-aid on it, but the wounds are much, much deeper, and we need to get them to people who can actually help them.”
As part of the partnership, CMHA will be delivering training to all Sudbury police officers on how best to respond to crisis calls, including how to identify which people would benefit most from the Cedar Street location services, or which ones would need to be taken to hospital right away.
“The bulk of the people we deal with will be brought here, but those in crisis will still be brought to the hospital, and those are the folks where there is an immediate threat to their life, either theirs or the life of someone else.”
Partners have also developed protocols between the police and hospital to share information on crisis calls and reduce the time police spend waiting in the hospital’s emergency department with individuals who can now access the Cedar Street location.
“In my 30-year career, this is a day I thought I would never see, and I'm just so pleased,” Elsner said.
While Jagessar said he's never had any personal experience with police officers in dealing with his own mental illness, he said he's well aware of the fact those incidents eat up a lot of time those officers could otherwise spend performing their regular duties.
“I think most mental health patients don't need a police escort to the hospital,” he said. “There's a wide spectrum of mental illnesses, and having the mobile crisis unit here will help determine if a police escort is actually needed.”
Furthermore, a mental health patient navigator, provided by the CMHA, will be located in the hospital’s emergency department to help guide clients to the new location, provide support to client family members, and help patient’s access primary care services if required.
“It's a really great idea, and I hope it really takes off,” Jagessar said. “I have nothing but good things to say about the staff at the centre, and the inefficiencies are hardly their fault, they're just dealing with the system they have. This is a step in the right direction.”