More needs to be done to support Indigenous mental health: TRU prof

Proactive approach needed

Earlier this week, the Canadian government announced $82.5 million in mental health and wellness supports to help Indigenous communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the funding is welcomed, an Indigenous mental health professional and TRU professor says the money could be spread so thin that it isn't very cost effective.

"There are over 600 First Nations, and if you add the Métis communities and the Inuit communities, you’ve got that much more," Dr. Rod McCormick tells Castanet. "Often with mental health dollars in Indigenous communities, there’s not enough money to do much."

McCormick, who's from the Mohawk Nation, is calling on Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to become more proactive and less reactive when it comes to mental health supports.

He suggests ISC launch a national program to train Indigenous community-based mental health facilitators. Right now, there are community health representatives who are funded by ISC. However, McCormick says their job descriptions are very broad and they often don't know how to navigate the mental health system.

"A mental health navigator or facilitator, they would know both the mainstream services and how to access them, which can be really tricky," he says. "They’d also be aware of more traditional services, like what programs exist in which communities, whether it’s healing from the land or traditional service providers. If there’s like this prevention worker that could both help people before they’re in crisis and when they’re in crisis, but who are community-based and know the local services, I think that would be ideal."

Mental health has always been a top concern for First Nations, McCormick adds, and the pandemic has just exacerbated the problem.

"(The pandemic) affects all Canadians but I think for Indigenous communities, not being able to visit your relatives is extra tough and not having the community events... that’s been really difficult. If you get isolated, you get sick. If you’re disconnected from family, from culture, from the land, etc., you can get sick," he says.

From January to April 2019, the Hope for Wellness Help Line received 3,602 calls and chats from individuals seeking crisis intervention services. For the same period in 2020, there have been just over 10,000 calls and chats, representing a 178 per cent increase in demand.

On July 6, the First Nations Health Authority reported that First Nations overdose deaths almost doubled between January and May of this year. 

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