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Strike by Yukon counsellors taking toll on mental health, clients say

Workers at Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services walked off the job on Nov. 2. 'It has been difficult, to say the least,' said one client, who sees a counsellor for help with depression.

Counsellors at Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services walked off the job Nov. 2

Striking workers and their supporters rally outside the Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services Office in Whitehorse on Friday. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

With a strike at Yukon's Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services now in its third month, some clients say they're suffering without the support they need. 

"It has been difficult, to say the least," said Kirsty Wells, who started seeing a counsellor at Many Rivers last year, to help her cope with depression. 

"I just need a little bit of extra help from a health care professional, and that's what these people are — health care professionals ... they kind of help us see clearer, through our sicknesses."

Many Rivers staff walked off the job on Nov. 2, and there is no end in sight for the strike. Close to 20 employees at offices in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Haines Junction and Watson Lake are affected. 

Wells said Monday that she's had a tough week, in what she calls a "depression hole." She says it's not as easy as looking for counselling elsewhere, because it takes time to build trust and a rapport with a counsellor.

"When you have to start doing that all over again, especially when you're in a low point, especially after you've established trust with someone else — your mental illness can also get in the way of that," she said.

Support for workers

Some clients, former clients and other community members held a rally last Friday, to show support for the striking workers.

Sidney Maddison was there, braving –35 C weather to hopefully put pressure on the Yukon government to step in. The government provides the bulk of Many Rivers' operating budget, but so far has stayed out of things.

'I know that there are lots of people out there waiting to use the services of Many Rivers,' said Sidney Maddison. (CBC)

"We are paying to support Many Rivers, which I agree with, but we're not getting any services right now," Madison said. "So why are we providing money to an organization that's not providing services?"

Madison said she's used Many Rivers services in the past. 

"It's been extremely beneficial to me. And I know that there are lots of people out there waiting to use the services of Many Rivers."

Tom Amson, also at Friday's rally, said something needs to happen to end the strike, but he's not sure exactly what. Amson is a retired addictions counsellor, and he believes people are suffering while it continues.

'Whoever needs to be talking, let's get the show on the road,' said Tom Amson, a retired addictions counsellor in Whitehorse. (CBC)

"There's a lot of vulnerable clientele that use this service, and I'm feeling like this has really gone on much, much too long," he said. "I can't believe that our community isn't in full uprise around this scenario.

"Time is of the essence ... So whoever needs to be talking, let's get the show on the road."

With files from Jane Sponagle and Sandi Coleman

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