Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Around the Arctic May 09, 2012 - 9:59 am

New national mental health strategy ups call for Inuit-specific services

Action will require “collaborative action across all levels of government"

The new mental health strategy for Canada contains many recommendations designed to improve mental health services for Inuit.
The new mental health strategy for Canada contains many recommendations designed to improve mental health services for Inuit.

(updated at 4:20 p.m.)

To see what a community-based mental wellness program for Inuit looks like, consider Clyde River’s Ilisaqsivik family resource centre, which was singled out for mention by the new mental health strategy for Canada Changing Directions, Changing Lives.

Ilisaqsivik responds to the realities faced by Inuit in their day-to-day lives and the needs of their communities, say the strategy, which was released May 8.

That’s something mental health services for Inuit need to do, says the strategy document, calling for more access to culturally safe mental health services that “contribute to truth, reconciliation, and healing from intergenerational trauma.”

Ilisaqsivik focuses on family healing and provides a range of programming for people of all ages in the community, it notes.

Of the 820 people who live in Clyde River, as many as 100 receive counselling services provided by elders, as well as by family, addictions, and youth counsellors every month.

More than 40 youth have participated in Ilisaqsivik’s hip hop program which is “helping to reduce self-harm, smoking, and marijuana use, and is contributing to an overall decrease in crime rates and suicidal thoughts,” while participants in Ilisaqsivik’s land-based programs participants learn and experience traditional ways of life and to facilitate healing.

Ilisaqsivik has also developed a two-year counselling training program, “tailored to reflect northern traditions and way of life,” the strategy says: “to date, 25 students have successfully completed that program, and the majority of them are working in northern communities.”

The strategy’s Inuit-specific recommendations for action draw on the Alianait Mental Wellness Action Plan, produced by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in 2007, which suggested Inuit, federal, provincial and territorial government representatives must work together to deal with mental health and substance use problems.

“I applaud the Mental Health Commission of Canada for working closely with Inuit, using the Alianait Inuit-Specific Mental Wellness Action Plan as a guide, and for acknowledging that the mental health system in Inuit Nunangat requires a serious overhaul, said ITK president Mary Simon, who has personally spoke out about the need for more mental health services in the North. “Our communities deserve the same access as other Canadians to mental health services. The launch of this national advocacy document is an extremely important opportunity for governments to move together with Inuit toward our mutual goal of empowered, healthy Arctic communities.”

Among the strategy’s 108 recommendations, several target Inuit, saying there should be:

• access to traditional, cultural, and clinical approaches in wellness services, treatments and supports;

• more support that uses the knowledge and strengths in Inuit communities;

• “adequate, sustained funding and support” to develop the mental health workforce and strengthen recruitment and retention of mental health workers;

• more availability of Inuit-specific mental wellness data, research, information, knowledge and training;

• stronger partnerships among government, non-government organizations, foundations, and the private sector; and,

• increased attention to the common underlying risk factors for suicide, such as poverty and trauma.

To improve mental health among Inuit, First Nations and Métis, the strategy wants to see a bigger focus on children.

“Broad policy changes are required” to address the over-representation of Inuit, First Nations and Métis children and youth in the child welfare system, the strategy states.

Inuit, First Nations and Métis need to be involved in processes that affect their children, it says.

“Services should be culturally safe and First Nations, Inuit, and Métis approaches to child welfare, based on respecting language and culture, need to be incorporated into all aspects of the child welfare system, including prevention, early intervention and support to families in crisis,” and Inuit, First Nations, and Métis families who adopt or provide foster care need to be “fully supported to do so.”

Access to cultural activities, traditional teachings and extended family should be available whether the child is “in care” or adopted, the strategy says.

The strategy also calls for a “mental health and substance use strategy” for Inuit, First Nations,and Métis, along with more access to a full range of mental health services, treatments and supports in urban and rural centres.

To carry through these improvements will require “collaborative action across all levels of government to address complex social issues that undermine First Nations, Inuit, and Métis mental health, such as violence against women and over-representation in the child welfare and criminal justice systems, regardless of where people live,” the strategy says.

And it urges federal, provincial, and territorial collaboration to work together to is needed to address the “many complex jurisdictional and governance issues” that affect programs.

You can read the full 153-page strategy report here.

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