Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief sets her sights on mental health

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said provincial support for the La Ronge Detox Centre is welcome, but that while detox is "vital" to the community, it is only one component of healing.

Province put $300,000 to La Ronge detox centre in 2019-20 budget

The Saskatchewan government has put $300,000 toward 24/7 nursing supports at the La Ronge Detox Centre. It said this will improve the centre's ability to treat people detoxing from meth, opioids and other substances. (Facebook)

Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said provincial support for the La Ronge Detox Centre is welcome, but that while detox is "vital" to the community, it is only one component of healing. 

The Saskatchewan government put more money toward mental health and addictions in its latest provincial budget.

A $300,000 chunk of that is going toward nursing support at a northern Saskatchewan detox centre. 

"The La Ronge Detox Centre is a vital service for people that are dealing with addictions within our communities," Cook-Searson said. 

"It'll be good to have skilled registered nurse to be on call 24/7. I'm not sure if it's 365 days a year, but it's a welcome addition." 

Cook-Searson said there are a multitude of social issues in the community and they're always trying to provide better help.

Drug and alcohol addictions are widespread. Cook-Searson said the community is also struggling with complications caused by a housing shortage. 

"When you have overcrowded housing it also gets into [tuberculosis]," she said, adding high rates of HIV, AIDS and other STIs persist.

"We have family violence. We have sexual abuse. There's the effects from the residential schools, Sixties Scoop."

She said the community is trying to rebuild families and get people back to the land.

"The land is healing, and then when you're out there doing stuff in nature there's a lot of healing that goes on — even just looking at the waves in the water," she said. 

Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said the north's front line workers 'are doing what they can but there's always more work to be done.' (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

She said they're working against the stigma that exists around mental health while encouraging hope among community members. 

"We continue to have high rates of suicide and, you know, that continues to concern us."

Building a mental health hub

Cook-Searson said the detox centre is only one component of tackling addictions. 

She's looking forward to the construction of a Lac La Ronge Wellness, Healing and Recovery Centre. The federal government is contributing $11.6 million to the mental health hub, while the province has put in $2.5 million and the band $2 million.  

She said it will offer western medicine while also embracing traditional and spiritual beliefs. There will be an emphasis on the Woodland Cree Culture.

The goal is to create a safe space where people can heal in their community. Cook-Searson said the centre can also serve the north, especially people who live in remote communities that lack services. 

Suicide Prevention

Saskatchewan's government is also directing $250,000 in 2019-20 to expand the a suicide prevention program to Buffalo Narrows.

The Roots of Hope Suicide Prevention Initiative is a program through the Mental Health Commission of Canada. The province has not yet hired a co-ordinator for Buffalo Narrows, but said the program already exists in Meadow Lake and La Ronge.

Cathy Wheaton became the project co-ordinator for La Ronge in March 2018. She said the program embraces five pillars : specialized supports, training, public awareness, means restriction and research. Wheaton said suicide is complicated and there's never one reason for it, so it requires a multi-faceted approach. 

She said the co-ordinators direct their programming to each community's needs. In the La Ronge area it's children and youth who are most at risk. 

Wheaton runs Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) courses — also known as suicide first aid. 

"That is a system where if somebody is identified as being potentially suicidal you actually know how to intervene in order to connect them to safety," she said.

"What happens is we have more people in the community who are knowledgeable about what's going on, how to respond, what to do."

The Roots of Hope Program also tries to tackle stigma.

"Saying okay, how can we break the stigma down and get people open and feeling like they can actually talk about this topic, because it's such a sensitive and important issue." 

Mental health resources are available through the region's Healthline at 811.

The Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention says that if you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them.

Here are some of the warning signs: 

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Substance abuse
  • Purposelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling trapped
  • Hopelessness and helplessness
  • Withdrawal
  • Anger
  • Recklessness
  • Mood changes