Manitoba commits $2.9M for mental health programs, services for youth

The Manitoba government says it will spend $2.94 million over the next three years on services to improve mental health and addictions programming for youth.

Opposition NDP says 'commitment falls short' after health-care cuts

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen announces funding for youth mental health at NorWest Co-Op Community Health Centre. (John Einarson/CBC)

The Manitoba government says it will spend $2.94 million over the next three years on services to improve mental health and addictions programming for youth.

The Opposition NDP says the funding is a good move but nowhere near enough.

"We know families and young people are feeling the stress from [Premier Brian] Pallister's cuts to health care and inaction on the meth crisis," said Bernadette Smith, the NDP's critic for Mental Health and Addictions.

"Today's announcement is welcome but considering the Pallister government underspent on community mental health care by $15 million in the last budget, this commitment falls short."

The spending announced on Monday by the Progressive Conservative government includes:

  • $823,000 for the NorWest Youth Hub to increase mental health and addictions counselling, Indigenous cultural supports, primary health care and recreation and training opportunities for youth age 14 to 24.
  • $621,000 for Project 11, which provides virtual and in-person lessons and activities designed to improve mental health awareness and positive coping strategies for students in kindergarten to Grade 8.
  • $1.5 million to expand the distribution of Thrival Kits to grades 4 to 6 students across the province. Thrival Kits are boxes kids fill with journals and other items as they learn mental health and coping skills.

"These initiatives, which include enhancing and expanding mental health and addictions services at the NorWest Youth Hub, will ensure more Manitoba children and youth are given the educational tools and professional services they need to make positive choices in their lives," Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen said.

The funding for NorWest will allow a 25 per cent increase in the programming it can offer, Friesen said.

"One hundred and fifty youth, who otherwise would not have been eligible for programming, can come in this door. [There will be] hundreds more psychologist appointments, hundreds more counselling appointments, hundreds more primary care appointments."

The government said the three initiatives meet the recommendations made in the review of Manitoba's mental health and addictions services by Virgo Planning and Evaluation. The review was commissioned by the province and released in May 2018.

"The Virgo report was that master report that told us that there are good people working in mental health and addictions all across this province, but we needed more co-ordination and more access," Friesen said. "So we've acted."

Almost one in four Manitobans age 10 and older has a diagnosed mood or anxiety disorder, while 75 per cent of mental illness onsets occur before the age of 24, according to the province.

In addition to the mental health and addictions services at NorWest, youth can access a multitude of programs, including school tutoring, cultural supports and training opportunities, and even become part of a youth advisory committee.

"What we have seen is that youth feel real ownership of the space and feel comfortable," Families Minister Heather Stefanson said. Youth tell her "it means everything to them that they they can come here and be with their friends and have a safe place where they can access services."

Laura Horodecki, project manager with NorWest Co-Op, said the facility is open to all youth age 14 to 24, across the city. (John Einarson/CBC)

Friesen said the three initiatives were chosen for funding because of "the fantastic work being done." NorWest, as an example, "will act as a template for other investments this government will make."

Asked what he would say to the organizations that didn't receive funding, Friesen advised them to hold on.

"You've got a government that takes these issues seriously. We will be rolling out our safer streets, safer lives actions plan and will have much more to say to Manitobans in the weeks and months ahead," he said.

"These meaningful programs are the first of more than a dozen initiatives we will be bringing forward over the next three months as part of our government's continuing efforts to improve mental health and addictions services."


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