No easy fix for N.W.T. mental health issues, say officials
Combination of factors make helping those in need difficult
Posted: Mar 20, 2013 10:01 PM CT
Last Updated: Mar 20, 2013 9:59 PM CT
A woman whose brother's death was investigated by a coroner's jury two years ago says a report into the shooting of Karen Lander looks all too familiar.
Margaret Eagle's brother, Raymond, was homeless when he was found bleeding in a Yellowknife neighbourhood in 2006. He was taken to hospital but was discharged and put in police custody, where his condition worsened. He never recovered from his head injury and died after spending more than three years in a coma.
Karen Lander was shot by police in a standoff last March after threatening suicide and pointing a gun.
Margaret Eagle says despite the differences, their stories share more than just a tragic ending.
"They let her family down, they let her down, they failed her," she says of police and health services.
She says Lander and her brother were both part of a marginalized population invisible to society.Margaret Eagle says the inquest into her brother Raymond's death, which was finished two years ago, brought up similar recommendations as the recent inquest into the death of Karen Lander. (CBC)
"We've criminalized those type of people. They're taken to the drunk tank for their own protection or, I think, because we want them in a facility so we don't have to deal with them," she says.
"Because they're not who we would perceive to be upstanding members of our society, these recommendations aren't going to go anywhere."
Hay River treatment centre only half full
Two years ago, a jury at the inquiry into Raymond Eagle's death made recommendations that included looking into a rehabilitation centre in Yellowknife and sharing information between agencies.
Similar recommendations have come out of the Karen Lander inquest.
The territory's health department says they need to figure out why a residential treatment facility in Hay River, N.W.T., is only half full before they know if a centre in Yellowknife is needed.
“I think we have a fairly comprehensive system that covers the entire range of needs. If anything needs to be done, it's making sure all the bits and pieces need to fit together seamlessly,” said Andy Langford from the health department.
Langford says the department needs to support people after they leave residential treatment, and identify when they may need more help.Andy Langford, from the N.W.T.'s health department, said they need to figure out why the treatment centre in Hay River is half full before they can know if a centre is needed for Yellowknife. (CBC)
Hindered by privacy laws
In terms of sharing information, agencies say they're trying. But privacy laws limit what information can be released.
"Probably 95 per cent of clients or more are willing to provide consent. The challenging population is the people that have mental health issues and addiction issues. To engage people with consent is not as easy as it may seem. So, If you are a person with a fairly significant substance abuse issue, you may or may not be willing to have a number of different professionals work with you and also know information about you together in a group," said Les Harrison, the CEO of the Yellowknife health authority.
For instance, people may fear that if their social worker knows they're drinking again, they could lose custody of their kids.
Another suggestion was for the Yellowknife health authority to offer cultural training for staff. Harrison says cultural training has been sporadic in the past and the health authority will need input from aboriginal communities in order to start any new programs.
However, Harrison says it would be helpful for staff to know more about the effects of residential schools and be able to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder.
Call for inquest recommendations to be legally binding
The coroner's jury also recommended a community support group, that would include doctors, psychiatrists and counselors, for people struggling with mental health and addictions. Harrison says that's been tried in the past but it didn't work, in part because people struggling with mental health and addictions don't always want to get together and work on their issues in a group.
CBC News is still waiting to hear from the RCMP and the hospital about the recommendations out of the Lander inquest.
Margaret Eagle worries that until coroner's inquests can make legally binding recommendations, their work may be futile.
She says there needs to be more leadership so people like her brother and Karen Lander won’t continue to fall through the cracks.
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