N.B. still lacks plan on Indigenous youth mental health, says child and youth advocate report
'It seems like they're not taking us seriously,' says co-chair of the First Nations Advisory Council
A progress report on youth mental health services in New Brunswick says urgently-needed improvements to mental health supports for Indigenous youth have not happened.
The report released earlier this week from the province's Child and Youth Advocate's office was looking at progress made since last year's Youth Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Services Review, prompted by the death of a 16-year-old girl who took her own life after she was unable to access mental health services in Fredericton.
The progress report noted there was an increase in funding for mental health services, including new funding for expanded services, but that "One area where we did not see as clear a change in behaviour was in First Nations-based services and, in particular, the follow-up to the calls to action in No Child Left Behind."
"The number of new directives and strategic goals was quite minimal, and inconsistent with the urgency of this issue in First Nations communities," said the report.
A First Nations Advisory Council was established by the Child and Youth Advocate to provide guidance and feedback for the provincial review, and the council's July 2021 report No Child Left Behind had 13 calls to action to improve mental health services and help curb suicide rates among Indigenous youth, which remain higher than the national average.
The calls to action included having the province recognize Wabanaki languages officially, provide culturally relevant services, and for provincial, federal and First Nations governments to work together to ensure Indigenous mental health needs were met.
Roxanne Sappier, co-chair of the First Nations Advisory Council, said she's heard little from the province and isn't sure how it plans to implement the calls to action.
"It seems like they're not taking us seriously," said Sappier, director of the Neqotkuk Health Center at Tobique First Nation, 120 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.
She said while writing the report several advisory council members lost youth in their communities to suicide so the work was both personal and vital.
Sappier said they want to see a commitment from all governments because the alternative is devastating for Indigenous communities.
"Nothing hurts us more than to know the future of our nations is at stake," said Sappier.
Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation, 120 kilometres north of Moncton, said the need for mental health supports is dire in Mi'kmaw communities.
"Our kids need it and we can't wait any longer," said Ginnish.
He said the province's integrated service delivery model needs to be in every community school. Ginnish said they've had to redirect funds from other areas to ensure his community school had a social worker.
He said many of the mental health supports are stretched thin and having a steady financial commitment by the provincial and federal governments would go a long way.
"It's a year-to-year thing; you don't know if you will receive funding from one year to the next," said Ginnish.
He said although many students face bullying, peer pressure and stress in school, Mi'kmaw children are also still dealing with the legacy of residential schools and day schools.
Ginnish said some community members have been re-traumatized by the day school settlement application process and the weight of it can reverberate into the home.
"People need help and they're not getting it," said Ginnish.
A spokesperson for the Government of New Brunswick said in an emailed statement that it is committed to ensuring Indigenous peoples have access to respectful and appropriate addictions and mental health services.
"The federal government has a significant role to play in these areas and we are working with our partners in the regional health authorities and in Indigenous communities to bridge the service gap," the statement read.
Two integrated service delivery First Nation co-ordinators began working with Wolastoqey and Mi'kmaw communities in March 2021 "to assist First Nations in realizing their own vision of the ISD model," the statement said.
"Addressing recommendations made in the No Child Left Behind report will be a key focus of government over the next eight months, which was the timeline identified by New Brunswick's Child and Youth Advocate for his next intended follow up."
Mental health counselling and crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.