How MPP Kevin Flynn became a mental health crusader
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – Fours years after chairing an all-party committee on mental health and addictions, Ontario MPP Kevin Flynn is a changed politician.
Feb 20 2014. By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist
The last thing Kevin Flynn expected when he won his seat in the Ontario legislature was that he would become a mental health champion. He had a business background. He had never studied psychology. Not once in his 18 years as a municipal and regional councillor had the issue come up. His only exposure to mental illness was “crazy Uncle Larry” in England.
Today the three-term MPP can’t let go of the issue. He can’t stop thinking about the raw pain witnesses poured out as an all-party committee on mental health crossed the province. He can’t rest knowing that hundreds of thousands of Ontarians are waiting helplessly for treatment.
“It changed me. It opened me up to an issue I didn’t understand. Now I see it all around me.”
Flynn’s journey of discovery began after he became a provincial politician. No sooner had the Oakville MPP opened his constituency office than a stream of parents with suicidal and severely addicted children started coming in. “One woman told me ‘I took my son to Buffalo and paid two guys to kidnap him and put him on a plane to a treatment centre in Utah’,” he recalled. “Another slept in front of the door of the apartment she shared with her son to stop him from overdosing.”
The rookie legislator staggered. “I had been living in a community with these issues under my nose. But no one talked about them.”
Finally someone did. On Dec. 4, 2008, Conservative MPP Christine Elliot(Whitby-Oshawa) put forward a motion calling on the House to establish an all-party committee to develop a comprehensive mental health and addictions strategy for Ontario.
Flynn leapt at the chance to say yes. His Liberal colleagues were less enthusiastic. “There was some reticence on our side. I guess I spoke out enough that people felt I might want to chair the committee.”
The next 18 months were unlike anything he had ever experienced. The committee members — six Liberals, two Conservatives and a New Democrat — set aside their party loyalties and worked single-mindedly toward the same goal. They let down their guard. They talked late into the night. They shared run-down hotel rooms in isolated communities. As their sense of common cause grew, so did their determination to submit a report the government could not ignore or study to death.
They kept it short — 21 pages — and readable. It conveyed the suffering of the families they met, encapsulated the unmet need and made 23 precise recommendations.
Within months — an amazingly short time by legislative standards — the government moved on the committee’s two most urgent recommendations; immediate action to stem the flow of prescription opioids (chieflyOxyContin) and a children’s mental health strategy with dedicated funding.
“Now it’s time to turn our attention to adults,” Flynn said in an interview last week. He has already begun. After the committee wrapped up its work, he enrolled in an MBA program focusing on mental health in the workplace. “I was up till 2 or 3 a.m. for three years.”
At the same time, he worked to make his community a leader in mental health. The Mississauga Halton Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) brought together all agencies in the region supporting the mentally ill and developed a coherent strategy. Oakville’s new hospital, slated to open next year, will have a divided emergency room, one side for people with physical injuries and ailments, the other side for people experiencing mental health crises. “When you see changes like this, you believe there is hope,” Flynn said.
At Queen’s Park Flynn tabled a motion to make Ontario the first province to endorse a national standard for psychological safety in the workplace developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It received all-party support. “The response was so good, I decided to challenge other provinces,” he said. He and his staff emailed every MPP and MLA in the country. “It is not a giant step but it keeps the discussion going.”
Often as Flynn takes his seat in the legislature waiting for the barbs and insults to fly, he wonders what it would take to recreate the alchemy that allowed the mental health committee to accomplish so much. Maybe it only happens once in a blue moon. But it made him proud to be politician.
< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/02/20/how_mpp_kevin_flynn_became_a_mental_health_crusader_goar.html >