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Op-ed: Accessing Mental Health in rural Nova Scotia... Forget about it!

by Rural Poverty In Annapolis Valley West

Need help for mental health problems in rural Nova Scotia? Don't hold your breath, says our Valley blogger.
Need help for mental health problems in rural Nova Scotia? Don't hold your breath, says our Valley blogger.

This op-ed was originally published in the excellent Rural Poverty in Annapolis Valley West. Check it out!

One of my friends has been going through a prolonged depression.  She is one of the young people I wrote about in an earlier post; graduated from post secondary school with top marks and then could not find any job paying more than $12 an hour.

Unfortunately, every job she took not only included low pay and no benefits for her skills and education, it also included sexual harassment. Each time my friend reported it to her boss and each time the situation was not addressed and she ended up leaving the job.

Finally my young friend got a decent paying job with a provincial government. She thought she was finally free and clear of the low paying jobs and sexual harassment.  Not so.

The pay was good but the sexual harassment was worse.  This time the perpetrator assaulted her. She saw the signs that the harassment was escalating.  The guy constantly made sexual comments about her body; once he did it in front of her boss.  

When my friend asked her boss why she didn't do anything about it, her boss shrugged her shoulders and said "Well that's just him.  You have to learn how to take him."

After a few years of this guy making sexual comments about my friend, he finally got her alone one day and pushed her up against the wall, pushing his hips and groin into her and whispering into her ear.  My young friend put down what she was doing and walked out. She complained to her union and to her bosses.  Its been five months since that happened.  

The union first asked her why she didn't report this harassment earlier and then told her that there is nothing they can do because it is a union member against a union member. Her employer, a provincial government, hasn't done anything except make her repeat her story (8 times so far) but the perpetrator is still at his job.

Her depression is most likely rooted in her employment experiences and as a result of what she has been subjected to in terms of both sexual harassment and low pay.  My friend feels as if she cannot work for a living without subjecting herself to discrimination and harassment.

As a result, she has become very depressed. This last case of harassment and her employer's lack of action on her part has devastated her. She went into an even deeper depression. She has recognized that she needs help and has tried to get it for herself.  Which has simply led to even more depression.

My young friend, after hiding herself in a dark room for two weeks, finally allowed herself to be taken to the emergency room of the biggest hospital in the valley.

After waiting more than 2 hours for medical attention, she was told by the medical staff that specializes in mental health, that her mental state was not considered a medical priority unless she attempted suicide.  They sent her home.  

My young friend felt rejected.  She felt alone. She felt like committing suicide. No one who could help her in the mental health profession cared enough about her to help her. Her friend that talked her into going to the emergency room felt enraged at the lack of caring on the part of the 'helping profession'. Both of them feel disillusioned and betrayed.

My friend then went to see her family doctor who prescribed some anti-depression medication for her and set up her with a psychiatrist.  The appointment was four months off.  The meds didn't work for my friend so she and her doctor kept trying other meds. When she did finally see the psychiatrist, he spent no more than 10 minutes, gave her more prescription meds, and made another appointment for her....in another four months.

Meantime her depression was getting worse.  She tried calling the provincial mental health crisis line. When someone calls this line and no one answers, they leave a message and the crisis worker will get back to you.  A half hour later (this is a Crisis Line??) someone called my friend back and gave her the 'local' mental health crisis phone number. (This is a Provincial Crisis Line??)  

The number was a long distance number in Kentville. This town is an hour away by car from where she lives. That is not 'local'.  My friend called up the 'Crisis Line' in Kentville and was told that someone would get back to her "...hopefully today."  Three and a half hours later, someone finally called for her.

She called the local Canadian Mental Health Office only to be told their local, part time representative has moved away.

My friend was utterly disgusted and angry...and depressed that this was the best the Mental Health profession in our area could do.

Although I understand her frustration and anger, I don't blame the Mental Health profession; I do blame our policy makers and our provincial government that doesn't take mental health or workplace sexual harassment seriously.

Instead of putting money into programs for the taxpayers who pay for them, our money goes to rich families like the Irvings, who are already among the 10 ten richest family in Canada.  Instead of money going into a REAL crisis line that is available 24-7, we pay out $300 million to build a building that the Irvings will own at the end of it all.  

Instead of putting together and paying for a rural mental health program(s) or even a decent rural 'crisis line', we are giving the Irvings a tax break on their profit making businesses.(And the Irvings are only one of the 1% Maritime families that receives this government largess.) Instead of addressing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, they drive off the women (and men) who are victimized and keep on the perpetrators.  They even promote them after the victims have been driven off.

Just for whom does our government work for?  Because clearly, it doesn't seem to be for us, the tax payers, the workers, the voters. And they certainly don't work for those of us who live and work and vote in rural areas.

What has happened to my young friend? She has left the job. She has given up, with very good reason, and left the position.  As a result, she has gone broke, bankrupt, and lost everything. There is another rural taxpayer, voter, worker who has gone into poverty because of a justice system that doesn't work and a mental health system that is so overstretched, it cannot even reach the rural parts of our province. And, as we all know, unemployment and poverty causes more stress and more depression.

Someday perhaps we will have a provincial government whom will live up to their platform promises.  Until then, be kind to your neighbours. You don't know what the are going through...alone.

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