North Shore residents can get crisis aid without 911

There is a crisis in the community, but a badge and gun may not be the right tools for the job.

The North Shore now has its first-ever mental health crisis outreach team based entirely on civilians.

The North Vancouver and West Vancouver branches of the Canadian Mental Health Association launched the Peer Assisted Care Team, or PACT, earlier this month.

“Some people are afraid to call 911, so we would provide an alternative for them,” said Julie Kaisla, executive director of CMHC on the North Coast. “This is a civilian response, so it’s accessible to people, and it’s safe, and it’s aware of trauma, and it’s really about building a human connection.”

By calling 1-888-261-7228 or texting 778-839-1831, anyone over the age of 13 on the North Shore can receive telephone or in-person help with a range of mental health issues, including suicidal ideation and despair, disorders in substance use or family quarrels.

Each call includes access to a mental health professional, such as a social worker or other clinician, along with a fellow worker — someone with personal experience dealing with the type of crisis their subject is going through. Together, they can help de-escalate a difficult situation.

“They often want someone to just listen and be with them and help them navigate through a number of different options. And maybe emergency room isn’t the only option,” Kaisla said. are not alone in this process.’

All of the PACT staff are trained to provide culturally appropriate assistance with knowledge of intergenerational trauma, especially for Indigenous communities. Before launching the North Shore PACT, Kaisla said they worked with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation), as well as people with experience, the North Vancouver RCMP and West Vancouver Police Department, city councilors and investigators.

Kaisla said there is a shift towards a more community-based response to mental health across North America, with a major boost in the high-profile incidents of police health checks ending in injury or death for the person in crisis. In 2020, the City of North Vancouver City Council initiated a process to find a civilian alternative to police welfare checks, although the CMHC’s program is independent of them.

For years, police have been the default first responder for mental health calls, but Kaisla said the two North Shore police stations have supported PACT’s arrival.

“I think they recognize that there are limits to what they can do to meaningfully respond to families in crisis and they see this as a very valuable service,” she said. “They often leave a family that is very traumatized and in crisis, and our support can come as a follow-up.”

Before sending their PACT members, CMHA always screens for signs of danger. Any call with imminent risk of harm or violence should still be sent to 911.

The service is available Thursday through Sunday from 6pm to midnight, but Kaisla said she hopes it will expand as more people learn about PACT as an option available to them. CMHA has raised enough money to keep the program running for a year.

“Hopefully within that time we can show that this is a service that the community wants and uses,” Kaisla said.

The service is currently available in English and Farsi.

“I think this is such an opportunity to transform crisis care in the province and the country. I’d like to see us really go along and listen to communities and vulnerable communities and marginalized communities about what they need,” Kaisla said.

PACT can be reached by calling 1-888-261-7228 or by texting 778-839-1831 or found online at the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division webpage.

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