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Mental health is topic of emergency debate in legislature

Opposition believes there's a crisis in the system

Premier Stephen McNeil answers questions before the opening of the fall session of the House of Assembly
Premier Stephen McNeil answers questions before the opening of the fall session of the House of Assembly   Emma Meldrum

Members of the House of Assembly debated a “mental health crisis,” in Nova Scotia as they opened the legislature for the fall session Thursday.

The legislature unanimously passed a motion for an emergency debate on the topic. Progressive Conservative Party leader Jamie Baillie requested that other matters be set aside so that the province’s mental health system could be discussed.

Speaker of the House Kevin Murphy agreed that the issue was worthy of debate.

“It is a matter of grave concern to Nova Scotians,” he said.

Before and during question period, many MLAs spoke about the difficulty of accessing mental health services.

“The government continues to say there is no crisis in mental health, but the people who rely on and need the mental health unit at Aberdeen know the Liberals are wrong. There is a crisis,” said Progressive Conservative Pat Dunn. He said that the closure of the mental health unit at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow was devastating.

Progressive Conservative Alfie MacLeod said the suicide rate rose in the province between 2000 and 2011.

“When will the government recognize there is a crisis and help the people who need it?” MacLeod asked.

Chris d’Entremont, another Progressive Conservative, accused the government of cutting spending on mental health. The Liberals dispute this.

“We have put more money into mental health,” Minister of Health and Wellness Leo Glavine said. He cited the SchoolsPlus program (which helps deliver support services to students) and a 24/7 crisis line as examples of government investments into the system. Glavine said that these programs and others have helped many Nova Scotians.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the government would respond to weaknesses in the system.

Progressive Conservative MLA Eddie Orrell said one weak spot is the system in colleges and universities. He said that teens and young people moving away for school are particularly at risk of depression.