Sask. mental health funding a start but more support needed, say social worker and chief

The federal government is announcing new money aimed at bolstering mental health supports in Saskatchewan's north, but an advocate says more still needs to be done.

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, Lac La Ronge Indian Band receive money for mental wellness teams

More than 250 people came together at a vigil in La Ronge, Sask., last year after six youth suicides in northern Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Jim Searson)

The federal government has committed more than a million dollars to bolstering mental health support in Saskatchewan's north.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott was in La Ronge, Sask., on Wednesday to announce $1.2 million in funding to develop new mental wellness teams who will work on the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and Lac La Ronge Indian Band — two of the country's largest First Nations. 

Treena Wynes, a social worker and member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, said she is grateful the government is stepping up with money months after the northern Saskatchewan communities were rocked by a series of teen suicides
Treena Wynes, a social worker, says more support is needed for youth in northern Saskatchewan. (Submitted)

But, she added, "There are some [kids] that have some traumatic incidents and experiences and live in unhealthy conditions and we need to have something in place for those youth."

She pointed out that in some communities there is still nowhere near the level of support there is in other parts of the province. 

"There really is nothing. There is maybe a high school counsellor," she said. 

Wynes said long-term funding for something like a mental health centre would go even further to prevent tragedies in the future. 

In a news release from the government, Chief Tammy Cook-Searson from the Lac La Ronge Indian Band agreed that while the money is needed, there is still more work to be done. 

"The crises we have faced in our communities has taken a toll on many of our families, and we recognize that healing process will continue on for some time," she said. 

"The trauma runs deep and there is still much more work to do ahead. As we work on our larger mental health strategy, we look forward to continuing our discussions with the federal government to advance our plans for a holistic wellness centre that can not only lead to lasting change for today's generation but for those to come."

Culturally specific care

Philpott said the funding will develop the 10 mental health teams which already exist in northern Saskatchewan.

Those teams, whose ranks were doubled in the wake of the youth suicides, will blend traditional and clinical approaches to mental health issues and will be attuned to the culturally specific needs of those living in Saskatchewan's north. 

Health Minister Jane Philpott was in La Ronge Wednesday to announce new funding for mental health teams. (Charles Hamilton/CBC)

Philpott said the two-year funding is a good start, it's by no means the end of the government's commitment. 

"We all wish that these circumstances could be turned around overnight, but it's going to take time. We are still seeing, of course, the multigenerational trauma ... those realities can't be changed overnight," Philpott told CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition

Philpott said she recognizes the need for community-based solutions to the mental health problems facing those in the north. 

If you need help

Mental health resources are available through the HealthLine at 811.

The federal government set up a toll-free number for First Nations and Inuit people who are experiencing mental health issues: 1-855-242-3310. 

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Here are some of the warning signs: 

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

With files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition