The Canadian government has promised to spend $82.5-million to improve access and address growing demand for mental health services in Indigenous communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to many mental health services within Indigenous communities have been disrupted due to the pandemic, while some services have shifted to virtual and telehealth treatment options, creating obstacles for those living in remote communities with limited connectivity. This news comes a month after the First Nations Health Authority in B.C. reported that First Nations overdose deaths almost doubled between January and May of this year.
An expert on Indigenous mental health, Dr. Rod McCormick says while the additional mental health funding is welcome—and while it may also be appropriate to divide the dollars between First Nations, Inuit and Métis regional organizations, with approximately 650 different First Nations Inuit and Metis communities in Canada—the money could be spread so thin that it isn’t very cost effective. In addition to this needed emergency funding, he recommends that Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) become more pro active and less crisis oriented by investing in a relatively inexpensive preventative program such as mental health navigators.
McCormick is director of All My Relations at TRU, a research network advancing Indigenous community wellness by bringing together regional, national and international Indigenous researchers to work in partnership with Indigenous communities to build community wellness. He is also a TRU professor and BC Regional Innovation Chair of Aboriginal Health. He is from the Mohawk (Kanienkehaka) Nation. His expertise includes counselling psychology and Indigenous mental health. He founded and co-chairs the National Aboriginal Health Steering Committee and strengthening Indigenous data with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
McCormick says Indigenous Services Canada should launch a national program to train Indigenous community-based mental health navigators/facilitators. There currently exists a community health representative program funded by ISC staffed by community based Indigenous workers who help community members obtain the physical health services they need, but they generally do not know the mental health system. A similar program needs to be established to employ Indigenous community mental health facilitators/navigators who will mobilize family and community healing resources for their respective communities and connect patients to essential western and traditional mental health treatment services. The workers would learn the ins and outs of connecting clients with mental health services as well as how to run peer support groups for youth and other psycho educational groups such as grief and loss support groups.
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