Jim Rhode’s Position on Mental Health Services & The Role of the City

My name is Jim Rhode and I’ve spent the past few months working hard to represent the residents of Ward 7 in Saskatoon. I believe I’m the strongest candidate for my neighbours in Adelaide Churchill, Avalon, Exhibition, Nutana Park, Stonebridge, Queen Elizabeth and the Willows.

October 10th is World Mental Health Day. And I believe that mental health and addiction issues deserve attention, discussion and support in the context of our city and municipal government.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. We are concerned about our health and the health of our loved ones. We are experiencing the challenges of social isolation and many of our elderly friends and family members are struggling to cope during this difficult time. And we have all certainly felt and seen the significant economic consequences, as people lose jobs, and small businesses struggle to keep their doors open or they had no choice but to close.

For these reasons, many feel that mental health and addictions will be the true second wave of this pandemic, and the need for mental health and social support will substantially increase in the coming months and years.

The repercussions will be felt right here in our city, in our neighbourhoods, and in many of our own homes. Many are suffering silently and, as I’ve talked to residents during this campaign, I’m hearing that many don’t know where to turn for help. I have been humbled by those, who merely by seeing mental health and addictions on my campaign material, have personally reached out to share their stories. This includes young people, previously unknown to me. For example, a young lady who just turned voting age who sought me out at a community event to share her and her friends struggles with anxiety, depression and their frustration with wait times for services that are critical to their mental health.

Here are some statistics to consider:
• In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.
• By age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness.
• Mental health is increasingly threatening the lives of our children; with Canada’s youth suicide rate being the third highest in the industrialized world.
• Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15-24 year old Canadians, second only to accidents. And 4000 people die prematurely each year by suicide.
• In 2016, 11% of Saskatchewan opioid deaths involved fentanyl. In 2018, the deaths involving fentanyl jumped to 45%, the largest in Canada.
• Today 12 more mothers/fathers will mourn the deaths of their child due to an addiction’s crisis.
• And – it is estimated that we are spending $51 billion dollars, annually, as a result of not appropriately addressing mental health and addictions issues in Canada.

Mental health and addiction support continues to be underfunded and many are calling for all levels of government to increase investment.

Your city council must play a role in this. It is not enough to say provincial and federal governments solely own this crisis, when it manifests itself every day in our community.

There is a lot of debate during this campaign about moving Saskatoon’s lighthouse facility. But I believe it’s too simplistic to think this issue is merely about a move. This is a greater problem and I am hearing from those in our neighbourhoods that we are losing sight of that.

Whether we move or do not move the Lighthouse, the underlying mental health, addiction and economic issues continue to exist. And if we think it is only those who are visible to us, struggling with mental health issues, we are mistaken.

This is why I am running for Ward 7 city councilor.

If you entrust me with your vote, I will demand greater cooperation between the health authority, the provincial government and the city. I have experience with this.

When I was board chair for Saskatoon Regional Health Authority, we worked with the city and ambulance services to put paramedics in holding cells in response to suicides and deaths that had taken place there. We need more of this type of collaboration focused on prevention and promotion.

If elected, I will demand that the cities strategic plan incorporates the health of people – that it recognizes the need to partner with non-profits to provide proactive prevention services, and that we help educate people that mental health issues, left unmanaged, often underly other health and addictions issues.

I am surprised given the increasing awareness of this issue that the city has yet to create an advisory committee to work with the community, considering there are advisory groups focused on things from public art to environmental issues. I will push to have an advisory committee focused on this issue!

I will work with the education system to consider mental health and addictions workers in our schools.

I will work with community organizations and sports teams to have mental health and addiction prevention workers visit kids early, while in sport, to talk about mental health and addictions; given that 50% of mental health issues occur before the age of 14.

I will advocate for the city to better manage the abandoned or condemned houses throughout Saskatoon; including tearing them. By doing this we discourage people from congregating in these places which will make our neighbourhoods safer.

We have many amazing non-profits in our community doing fantastic work. However, I am hearing that the city often puts up unnecessary barriers to programming. Much of which is funded by the community. Why do we have a system set up to stand in the way of investment? Especially investment in our people/residents who need our help. I am also hearing that people needing services are often confused about where to get services. We need to create a better way for people. We need advocates and support for system navigators; who can help people access the right services at the right time. We need service workers directly IN the community.

We can choose to invest in these proactive support systems, or we can end up paying more for crisis intervention and first responders, when it’s often too late. The lack of prevention and promotion is putting additional pressures on the health system.

I have a clear vision for Saskatoon: safe communities, with planned growth, and job creation.

I look forward to earning your vote on November 9 so we can bring this vision to life together.