Yukon's revamped mental health strategy to first focus on children, families

The Yukon government acknowledges it can and needs to do better for people with mental health issues and addictions, and suggests lack of coordination has been a major flaw.

Territorial government says it can and will do better for people with mental health issues and addictions

Health Minister Mike Nixon, flanked by Sherri Wright, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health, left, and Ruth Massie, Grand Chief of the Yukon Council of First Nations, right, takes questions at a briefing Thursday. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The Yukon government has released a 10-year mental wellness strategy it says is meant to better deliver mental health and substance use care in the territory.

Documents released by the government say 7,500 Yukoners out of a population of about 37,000 struggle with mental health or substance use each year. 

There are 1,000 emergency department visits each year related to drugs and alcohol. On average, 40 children and youth each year are treated in an emergency department for intentional self-injury.

The documents note significantly more rural female teens report feelings of sadness and hopelessness than urban female teens.

More than 30 per cent of Yukoners report heavy drinking and fewer Yukoners report having "very good" mental health than the national average.

Government acknowledges "can do better" 

The territorial government can do better and needs to do better, health minister Mike Nixon acknowledged at a briefing Thursday, but said it will take time.

"We know this 10-year strategy will not, and cannot immediately address all the gaps in the mental wellness system," said Nixon. "What it can do is provide us with a solid foundation upon which to build a framework."

There are successes in mental health and drug and alcohol treatment, he said, but many people have told the government there's a lack of coordination.

Nixon said the initial priority will be to focus on children, youth and families.

"The onset in most mental health issues is often in adolescence and early adulthood, for that reason our focus in the first two years of this strategy will be on children, will be on youth and it will be on families."

Patricia Bacon, executive-director of Blood Ties Four Directions, asks Health Minister Mike Nixon for clarification on the Yukon Government's new Mental Wellness Strategy, which was unveiled today in Whitehorse. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)
Patricia Bacon, the executive director of the Blood Ties Four Directions Centre, asked at the briefing if the government's focus on children, youth and families means that it's "business as usual" for adults struggling with mental health and addiction.

"Can we expect anything immediately for that population, your own announcement you named some statistics that pointed out the burning issue around mental health and addictions in our community, of adults?" Bacon said.

Nixon said there has already been progress in housing and other areas, adding that a new $21 million detox centre is set to open soon. 

Kwanlin Dün Chief welcomes strategy

Doris Bill, the Chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, said that the government's strategy is welcome news.

"The wellness of our citizens on all levels which includes mental health must be a priority," Bill said.

She said the strategy creates opportunities to ensure nobody is left behind because of the long-term effects of residential schools and unhealthy influences on First Nations people.

Bill and Nixon noted it's meant to be a "living" process that can take shape as needs and solutions are identified